Mischievous Climate Worries

Modernity is a capitalistic phenomenon. It is the result of free-market industrial competition based on the security of private property, unregimented personal enterprise, specialized competence engaged via voluntary contractual exchange and unprotected profit-and-loss capitalization and management. While the results of such a social paradigm are eagerly sought the world over, the methods involved are often misunderstood, misconstrued, misapplied and even banned by force of arms, which leads to chicanery, corruption, waste, and failure.

Modernity is not universally welcome among all the people of the Earth. Many believe that modernity has whetted man’s energy and goods appetite to the point where natural resources are seriously depleted and the environment is seriously degraded.[1] These two concerns combine to provoke worry about the climate in which we live. Whether or not these concerns have an authentic foundation in science, they have evoked emotional consequences that have inspired public policy, which has spawned legislation aimed at natural resource conservation, environmental protection, and climate change inhibition.[2] The implementation of this legislation has resulted in a degree of industrial regulation and regimentation that is tantamount to de-industrialization. Among other things, these policies have more than doubled the cost of obtaining electricity from the community grid in less than a decade during which time the grid has begun to deny service on random occasions.[3]

Current Prices on popular forms of Gold Bullion

The greater part of this cost and unreliability escalation in electric service is traceable to just one of the government’s many policy objectives, namely climate change abatement. The proxy for that objective is stringent control of “greenhouse gas” emissions, the control of which is believed necessary to limit the so-called greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. That objective is sought out of fear that continued fuel-burning and other industrial processing by humans will increase the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other infrared-absorbing gasses in the atmosphere that produce the greenhouse effect. The worry is that the Earth’s atmospheric greenhouse effect is reaching strength sufficient to cause the Sun to overheat the planet and plunge its climate into an irreversible warming trend with catastrophic consequences for mankind.

But why pick on CO2? Next to oxygen, CO2 is an essential component of the atmosphere for the continuation of life on Earth. Without sufficient CO2 in the atmosphere, which is deemed deficient at present notwithstanding significant growth during the past century, grazing lands, agriculture and forests wither and die. More CO2 and a warmer climate would bring greater prosperity. [4]  What’s more, there is another greenhouse gas in the atmosphere capable of much stronger solar heat absorption than CO2 and is 100-times more prevalent in the atmosphere than CO2. And the presence of this gas in the atmosphere has virtually no connection with human industrial activities. That gas is water vapor. Who knew? How comes this gross misapprehension by the public?

The answer to the above question has to do with the streetlight effect.[5]  Since government regulation only works on people, not gasses, and only people pay taxes, the control of people is the raison d’etre of government. Of course, the government has to get the people’s attention before it can take any effective action. The streetlight effect provides a short-cut to this end.

It is true that people do things that put CO2 in the air. It is also true that CO2 is a “greenhouse gas” and as such has, in principle, a minuscule effect on the Earth’s temperature. if the Supreme Court agrees with the EPA that the emission of human-generated CO2 has a significant effect on the Earth’s temperature in practice, they might agree with the EPA that a threat to the general welfare exists in terms of an adverse climate change. Then, they might back the EPA’s environmental protection campaign by declaring human emissions of CO2 an “environmental endangerment” at odds with the general welfare and allow the government to proceed to regulate the industry as if it was true. Whether the EPA’s proposition is true or not, if the Court assents, what EPA’s advocates say becomes the cause and the consequence regardless of any proof to scientific standards.

Presumably, the U. S. Supreme Court will get around to insisting on the presentation of scientific evidence connecting alleged cause and supposed effect, which adherence to the Constitution implies. Actually, the court went along with the EPA on a provisional basis despite a paucity of observational evidence and allowed it to declare anthropogenic CO2 a pollutant and proceed to regulate human life accordingly.[6]  The mystery is why the court neglected to question the physics or the evidence of causality of the purported endangerment asserted by the EPA.

Whatever the scientific merit, the enforcement of legislation is the raison d’etre of the EPA, and legislation has to go where human action is played, relevant or not. So non-anthropogenic gasses get a pass. And suspect human action becomes the rhetorical “streetlight” for the supposed threats to the environment. Although a very puny factor in the world of physical phenomena, human action is always culpable in the eyes of a government bent on the conquest of people.

Accordingly, true to form, government-sponsored studies have developed a plausible story connecting human industrial activity to atmospheric CO2 and atmospheric CO2 to climate change. This is the government’s “streetlight.” [7]  The story certainly suffices for legislative purposes. After all, what else can the government regulate but people? It certainly has no power over the planetary atmosphere.

The AGW Story[8]

As with most stories, this one begins with some facts. Some atmospheric scientists recently discovered that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has become almost twice what it was at the beginning of the industrial age when the burning of fossil fuel began in earnest thereby increasing the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere. They found the CO2 had increased from roughly 250 parts per million (ppm) in the year 1800 to 400 pm today, an increase of 60% in a period of a little over two hundred years. Sound the alarm? Not for plant life. The more CO2 the better for the green world.[9]

Regardless, the additional 150 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere that has been blamed on humans has not actually been traced to human action. It stands only as an accusation in the absence of suggestions as to other plausible causes. And there are other possibilities. For instance, geologists and meteorologists have determined that quite coincidently and having no apparent connection with humans, the Earth has been coming out of the Little Ice Age during the same period of time as the capitalistic industrialization. The Earth began returning to thermal “normality” about 1850 whereupon its great carbon reservoir, the oceans, began to gain some heat and lose some of the vast store of carbon therein to the atmosphere by diffusion. This shifting in the equilibrium between the oceans and the atmosphere at this time in history raises to question how much of the supposedly offending CO2 in the atmosphere can be attributed to human activity. How much indeed?

If the preponderance of the CO2 growth is not due to human action, then what is the relevance of the EPA’s intervention into industrial affairs? Alas, only the human contribution of CO2 is subject to human control and that turns out to be minuscule vis-à-vis nature. Therefore, AGW is questionable, to say the least. Likewise, so is the legitimacy of the EPA.

Regardless, the government’s story got the jump on the public. Already, the “Chicken Little” effect has taken hold.[10]  It is one of the most widely promoted ideas of all time that human-generated CO2 is increasing the atmospheric greenhouse to such an extent that it has become strong enough to cause irreversible warming of the Earth’s climate. This idea is based on the tacit assumptions that

  • the greenhouse effect is the principal determinant of the Earth’s temperature,
  • that the strength of the greenhouse effect is proportional to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and
  • that humans are responsible for the presence of the offending gas (i.e., they are the significant polluters).

It is also assumed that the audience is ignorant of physics and will accept whatever story the authorities concoct as true, ipse dixit.[11]

Now, mistakenly riding on the bandwagon of an alleged worldwide consensus of scientists,[12] many are convinced a monster heat wave is imminent causing the glaciers to melt, the climate to go weird and the seacoasts to be inundated by rising tides. No typical natural disaster, this public safety crisis-in-the-making is Apocalyptic, and it is attributable to human gluttony, a moral failing that naturally calls for the government to rein in the offending behavior with broader and more stringent emission regulation and selected lifestyle changes.

But what happens when the government reins in the spontaneous exercise of such choices that humans make to shape the social institutions that survive and serve? Behind every such choice is the self-interest of someone. Some say greed. If so, there is an even stronger argument for laissez-faire capitalism. For as pointed out by economist Israel M. Kirzner:[13]

“The essential quality of a market system, contrary to popular thinking, is not that it promotes greed; but rather that it renders greed harmless.”

This massively underappreciated aspect of the free market is what channels otherwise corrosive manifestations of natural human greed into creative human initiative. Absent the market, greed has free rein to express itself in political schemes that corrupt the social institutions as is now plain to see. Whatever it is about climate change that can legitimately concern humans will require the best in a creative human initiative to find out, prepare and invest in appropriate protection. This means more laissez-faire, not the more greed-plagued government.


[1] Matt Ridley, “The World’s Resources Aren’t Running Out,” The Wall Street Journal, April 25, 2014. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304279904579517862612287156

[2] Matt Ridley, “The Scarcity Fallacy,” The Wall Street Journal, Review Section, Saturday/Sunday, April 26-27, 2014.

[3] http://cnsnews.com/news/article/terence-p-jeffrey/electricity-price-index-soars-new-record-start-2014-us-electricity

[4] http://co2science.org/education/book/2011/55BenefitsofCO2Pamphlet.pdf

5 A policeman sees a drunk searching for something under a streetlight. He asks the drunk, what have you lost.” The drunk replies, “I lost my keys.” They both proceed to look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes, the policeman asks the drunk if he is sure he lost them here. The drunk replies, “no, I lost them in the park.” The policeman is stumped: “If that’s the case, why are you searching here?” The drunk replies, “Because here is where the light is.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streetlight_effect

[6] http://www.forbes.com/sites/danielfisher/2014/05/27/yes-epa-can-regulate-co2-but-can-lawyers-beat-the-rules-in-court/

[7] https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/inconvenient_truth/

[8] Anthropogenic Global Warming

[9] Greenhouse growers augment the CO2 levels in their crop buildings to at least 1000 ppm. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02904000#page-1

[10] A chick called “Chicken Little” believes the sky is falling when an acorn falls on its head. The chick decides to go tell the King and on its journey meets other animals, which join it in the quest to avoid disaster according to Chicken, whose authority is unquestioned. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henny_Penny

[11] On the uncontestable authority of the one who said it, originally Julius Cesar. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipse_dixit

[12] http://hockeyschtick.blogspot.com/2014/05/wsj-myth-of-climate-change-97-what-is.html

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_Kirzner