Climate Change

Freeman Dyson on Global Warming and the New Secular Religion

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As the Copenhagen Consensus Center 2008 conference ponders how to prioritize and address planet-wide issues, including global warming, there's this piece in The New York Review of Books by Freeman Dyson to consider:

Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion. And the ethics of environmentalism are fundamentally sound. Scientists and economists can agree with Buddhist monks and Christian activists that ruthless destruction of natural habitats is evil and careful preservation of birds and butterflies is good. The worldwide community of environmentalists—most of whom are not scientists—holds the moral high ground, and is guiding human societies toward a hopeful future. Environmentalism, as a religion of hope and respect for nature, is here to stay. This is a religion that we can all share, whether or not we believe that global warming is harmful.

Unfortunately, some members of the environmental movement have also adopted as an article of faith the belief that global warming is the greatest threat to the ecology of our planet. That is one reason why the arguments about global warming have become bitter and passionate. Much of the public has come to believe that anyone who is skeptical about the dangers of global warming is an enemy of the environment. The skeptics now have the difficult task of convincing the public that the opposite is true. Many of the skeptics are passionate environmentalists. They are horrified to see the obsession with global warming distracting public attention from what they see as more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet, including problems of nuclear weaponry, environmental degradation, and social injustice. Whether they turn out to be right or wrong, their arguments on these issues deserve to be heard.

Dyson reviews two books, one by economist William Nordhaus and a collection of approaches to global warming edited by former Mexican President Ernest Zedillo. The whole piece is worth reading and is online here.

I'm more than a little unsettled by Dyson's casual equation of socialism and environmentalism, and the relatively uncomplicated assertion that greens hold the moral high ground (just as, one supposes, the socialists did?). However, I think Dyson is surely correct in a purely descriptive sense and there's this odd twist that might just make policy discussions more wide-ranging and meaningful. When an ideology becomes the background assumption, it's often easier to start discussing the limits of that system, or at least to start talking about meaningful differences again. Which helps explain the boomlet of skeptical environmentalist books that Dyson is commenting on (for another example, go here).

Hat tip: Blogger and movie critic extraordinaire Alan Vanneman (whose new essay in Bright Lights on Renoir's The Rules of the Game is compulsively worth reading. Or perhaps worth reading compulsively?).

NEXT: Another Day, Another Drug Raid Death

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  1. He’s just leading everyone up to his solution to global warming: build a Dyson sphere.

  2. anyone who is skeptical about the dangers of global warming is an enemy of the environment

    Ron Bailey used to be my enemy, now he is my friend.

  3. Way way way off topic (well, at least it is related to the environment)…if you didn’t watch part 1 of A&E’s Andromeda Strain remake last night (especially in HD!) you’re missing out on probably the best made for TV Sci-Fi movie (ever?).

  4. I heard that the new Andromeda Strain was slow, boring, and sucky. Are you telling me Entertainment Weekly is wrong? That can’t be possible.

  5. I heard that the new Andromeda Strain was slow, boring, and sucky. Are you telling me Entertainment Weekly is wrong? That can’t be possible.

    I just read that review. Clueless. The movie is faithful, with good effects, good pacing, good graphic violence, good acting. Chock full of yummy goodness.

    I’m sure A&E will be replaying it 3000 times, so plenty of viewing opportunities.

  6. Hmm, I will have to instruct the TiVo to acquire it. Thankfully I get EW for free from my cable company and don’t pay for it.

  7. I’m more than a little unsettled by Dyson’s casual equation of socialism and environmentalism, and the relatively uncomplicated assertion that greens hold the moral high ground (just as, one supposes, the socialists did?).

    I thought it was an excellent analogy. Socialism did have the moral high ground, proposing that government should bring efficiency to society, restrain greed, and act for the good of the people.

    Unfortunately, being morally correct doesn’t guarantee that a philosophy is valid, or that proposed policies won’t actually do more harm than good. Most of the really bad mistakes I’ve made have been based on the purest of intentions.

    Libertarian 101.

  8. We need a global warming cathedral, to glorify our devotion to our new religion; we can use carbon tax money to build it. I hear there’s an open patch of ground somewhere in lower Manhattan.

    Everybody wins!

  9. Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion.

    It’s fun to read about when for some, socialism was considered inevitable. Kudos to Hayek and Von Mises for showing the way to folks to disabuse themselves of that delusion.

  10. The problem is that like radical socialism, the true believers are too often unwilling to examine whether the problems are really so bad as to require the solutions they proffer. The underlying data is as weak and contradictory as the rhetoric is apocalyptic and uncompromising.

    I used to wonder what the global warming crowd would say if there was no warming from 1998-2018. Apparently, they have no worries on that score; ocean currents are already being pre-blamed.

  11. The thing is, the people who are the most vehement environmentalists will also vehemently deny that they are practicing a secular religion. I have brought this up many times to people who I know that are environmentalists, and you might as well be talking to a wall.

    As far as they are concerned, only backwoods inbred hicks and Republicans have religion–but they have enlightened science. Of course, they also absolutely believe that organic food is better for you even though there is absolutely no scientific proof of that.

  12. Epi,

    Yeah, the animal brain is just fundamentally wired for superstitition. The random-reward pattern produces the most enduring associations.

  13. And the ethics of environmentalism are fundamentally sound.

    Well, the ethics of damn near anything are fundamentally sound at a sufficiently high level of abstraction. Ethics are tested when they are put into practice, and so far the true ethics of most environmentalists look an awful lot like old-school authoritarianism.

    The worldwide community of environmentalists-most of whom are not scientists-holds the moral high ground, and is guiding human societies toward a hopeful future.

    To the extent environmentalists are guiding societies anywhere, it is toward a future with more centralized control and fewer freedoms. I don’t see that as hopeful.

    Really, this kind of nattering on about environmentalism without any regard for how much of its enforced in practice, and for the explicit aims of its political wing, brings to mind the phrase “useful idiot”, if not “fellow traveller”. And I say that as someone who is genuinely saddened to see Freeman Dyson uttering this tripe.

  14. Nick Gillespie,

    Well, one could read this statement in a different way, namely that the ethics of socialism were not fundamentally sounnd.

  15. I like how easily some people can intertwine their AGWism with authoritarianism; “I want the government to force everybody else to change their behavior, so I don’t have to change mine.”

    Like when they vote for mass transit because they think other people will take the train, and the the result will be less traffic (for them).

  16. R.C. Dean,

    Given the heavy emphasis on markets and the advancement of new technology that many environmentalists have I don’t think that centralized control is a neccessary outcome of an ethical system which views environmental issues as being of primary importance.

  17. I agree with Nick that Dyson gives environmentalism too much credit by handing them the moral high ground. Only human beings have moral value. Cruelty to animals is wrong because it it wrong to take pleasure in inflicting suffering, not because animals are moral beings. The natural world is intrinsically amoral, which is why attempts to find morality in nature always end in disaster, or even Al Gore. Much the better part of Dyson’s piece is his discussion of the book by William Nordhaus, which demonstrates that attempts to seriously restrain global warming with existing technology is a very bad idea, something we’ve all heard umpteen times from Ron Bailey.

  18. Cruelty to animals is wrong because it it wrong to take pleasure in inflicting suffering, not because animals are moral beings.

    So, as long as I don’t take pleasure in it, it’s okay? Good.

  19. Vanneman,

    So, if my dog has some terminal disease, it would be moral to throw him into the wood chipper in my back yard, rather than having him euthanized? I wouldn’t take pleasure in it, but it would be way more convenient and cost a lot less.

  20. Anyone who thinks that a philosophy that’s willing to see millions of children in Africa die of malaria in the name of “careful preservation of birds and butterflies” has a very strange definition of sound ethics.

    He’s right on in his equation of environmentalism and socialism, though. There’s no big secret there! I don’t know who first described ecofreaks as “watermelons” (green on the outside, red on the inside) but it certainly fits.

  21. RC,
    To the extent environmentalists are guiding societies anywhere, it is toward a future with more centralized control and fewer freedoms. I don’t see that as hopeful.

    I am an environmentalist. I grow my own food. I walk or ride a bike when possible. I recycle. I turn off power as much as possible. I combine trips.

    Sure all of the save me money, but they also reduce my carbon footprint. The only centralized control I want is timed stop lights so I can cruise at the speed limit and not have to stop.

    Environmentalists are diverse, and at the core they are the hope for humanity. Don’t believe everything you type.

  22. The movie is faithful, with good effects, good pacing, good graphic violence, good acting. Chock full of yummy goodness.

    I must have been watching a completely different movie.

    Very weirdly, I had a conversation with a friend the other week about how Andromeda Strain was due for an update. (I wasn’t aware that it was already imminent.) Sadly, when they do do this, I said, it will be filled with young, pretty scientists, be as shallow as a sidewalk puddle, lack any real substance, stress action over character and narrative and pale in comparison to the original.

    I hate being right all the time.

    The original movie accomplished its goal with solid and suspenseful film-making, did so with a cast of relative, and old and unattractive, unknowns and was wonderous with how it used economy to its vast advantage.

    Last night’s rendiditon was a shrieking mess, filled with meaningless plot distractions, designed, no doubt, to do nothing but fill time and and provide a greater opportunity to sell soap, and wrought with harsh overacting by soap opera wannabes. It was a shameful experience and one I was shocked to see, had Ridley Scott’s name attached to it in an executive producer position, albeit an absentee EP, it seems. It looked and felt like an unfinished and rejected SciFi channel “original” movie.

    Bad Ridley! Bad!

  23. The idea that there is a single belief system in the environmental community is specious at best. And when you pair this with statements that environmentalism advocates centralized control you are simply engaging in the left/right political battles of the 60’s.

    Environmentalists frequently advocate decentralized, market-based approaches for addressing environmental issues. Environmentalists have implemented these non-governmental approaches in the real world.

    Here’s a nice opinion piece:
    http://scitizen.com/screens/blogPage/viewBlog/sw_viewBlog.php?idTheme=31&idContribution=1187

    When talking about government policy, of course, environmentalists talk as much of deregulation, investment, and reform as they do about increasing regulations, but that doesn’t fit into the narrative of the culture wars.

    As for Dyson’s piece. It is a nice review. I find it interesting that he accepts Nordhaus so readily without examining the critiques of DICE and the assumptions it uses.

    The great virtue of Nordhaus’s economic analysis is that it remains valid whether the majority view is right or wrong.

    DICE has certainly not been vetted well enough to be declared valid, whether or not the majority view on AGW is right or wrong.

  24. I had to turn off Andromeda Strain…it was like watching a biohazard episode of Scrubs or ER.

  25. So, if my dog has some terminal disease, it would be moral to throw him into the wood chipper in my back yard, rather than having him euthanized

    So you’re claiming that moral indifference to non-humans should be criminal?

    It was a shameful experience and one I was shocked to see, had Ridley Scott’s name attached to it in an executive producer position, albeit an absentee EP, it seems.

    You could always blame Tony instead. And yes, apparently we did see two different productions.

  26. This Dyson cocksucker makes it sound like dirt-worshipping heathens are a phemonenon of the 20th fucking century.

  27. Environmentalism will probably last longer than socialism did. Socialism started losing credibility when the suffering in socialist countries became apparent. Environmentalists speak in the name of plants and animals (fungi, protista, and prokaryotes just aren’t photogenic enough). They don’t have worry about unintended consequences underminding their philosophy. After all, if the mule deer of Yellowstone don’t like the new wolf population, whom are they going to complain to?

  28. jtuf,

    Environmentalism will probably last longer than socialism did.

    You may mean “communism.”
    Socialism is alive and well.

  29. Environmentalists are diverse, and at the core they are the hope for humanity.

    Well, right there we have confirmation of the “new secular religion.”

    And I’ll grant that they are diverse, and lots of people do things in their personal lives because they have environmental leanings. Hell, I recycle, and like many hunters and fishermen have spent quite a few of my own personal dollars on habitat restoration and improvement.

    But if we’re talking about environmentalism guiding societies in a new direction, we are talking about the political wing of the environmental movement, which is unabashedly authoritarian.

    Environmentalists frequently advocate decentralized, market-based approaches for addressing environmental issues. Environmentalists have implemented these non-governmental approaches in the real world.

    Those environmentalists pushing market based solutions get my plaudits, to the extent they really are just putting green options on the table and letting people freely choose them or not.

    But all too many environmentalists who talk about the “market-based solutions” think that cap-and-trade is market-based, or see the market as something to be manipulated by government mandates and incentives.

    Given the heavy emphasis on markets and the advancement of new technology that many environmentalists have I don’t think that centralized control is a neccessary outcome of an ethical system which views environmental issues as being of primary importance.

    Environmentalism as a belief system has no innate preference for liberty or freedom. Rather, it is oriented toward certain goals; if/when liberty and freedom have to be sacrificed for those goals, then onto the altar they go.

  30. I had to turn off Andromeda Strain…it was like watching a biohazard episode of Scrubs or ER.

    Sorry MP, but I will have to go with the opinion of a dude who likes Wild Zero.

  31. “Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion”

    It’s more like environmentalism is the new mask for socialisim to hide behind.

  32. “Socialism did have the moral high ground, proposing that government should bring efficiency to society, restrain greed, and act for the good of the people.”

    Wrong.

    The moral high ground is the preservation of maximum individual freedom.

  33. Sorry MP, but I will have to go with the opinion of a dude who likes Wild Zero.

    Man, I had to look that one up. That looks better than (last night’s) Andromeda Strain!

  34. Gilbert Martin,

    I think if you rephrase your assertion I can agree…

    Something like:

    “Those on the far left frequently use talk of environmentalism to push their agenda.”
    It is important, however, not to make the Joe-is-a-man-therefore-all-men-are-Joe mistake.

  35. So you’re claiming that moral indifference to non-humans should be criminal?

    I made no reference to criminal law, and I was responding to a comment that made no such reference either. I was talking about morality, which as a paleotarian I consider should be totally distinct from legality.

    The animal kingdom (ie, polar bears, sharks, tetanus bacilli) doesn’t respect human rights, but I think all of us here agree that we should anyway. Likewise, the fact that animals don’t shrink from causing wanton suffering to other animals doesn’t mean that we humans should behave the same way.

  36. “Environmentalists frequently advocate decentralized, market-based approaches for addressing environmental issues. Environmentalists have implemented these non-governmental approaches in the real world.”

    Hardly.

    Environmentalists demand that government mandate some outcome they desire and then proclaim that it’s “market-based” when companies are allowed to try different ways to meet the mandate.

    There was nothing “market-based” about creating the mandate in the first place.

  37. I made no reference to criminal law, and I was responding to a comment that made no such reference either. I was talking about morality, which as a paleotarian I consider should be totally distinct from legality.

    My bad.

  38. “Those on the far left frequently use talk of environmentalism to push their agenda.”
    It is important, however, not to make the Joe-is-a-man-therefore-all-men-are-Joe mistake.”

    Well if someone who calls himself an “environmentalist” advocates strictly voluntary efforts by other’s to comply with his view of what’s necessary to protect the environment, then I will agree he’s not a socialist.

    However, if he advocates using government to force others to comply with his objectives, then he is a socialist.

  39. Environmentalists demand that government mandate some outcome they desire and then proclaim that it’s “market-based” when companies are allowed to try different ways to meet the mandate.

    That sounds like an All-Men-are-Joe statement.

    If there is a core to environmentalism, it is an attempt to create a different set of goals, not a set of methods for reaching those goals.

  40. Of course, if you define “socialist” as everything to the left of Rothbard, then most people are socialists…

  41. Gilbert Martin,

    Environmentalists demand that government mandate some outcome they desire and then proclaim that it’s “market-based” when companies are allowed to try different ways to meet the mandate.

    Some enviromentalists do. Some don’t. And markets are in the toolbox of enviromentalists far more today than was the case say thirty years ago.

    R.C. Dean,

    Environmentalism as a belief system has no innate preference for liberty or freedom.

    Since a significant aspect of environmentalism concerns itself with the welfare of human beings and human beings do well under conditions which promote liberty I would say that environmentalism can have a “innate preference” for liberty or freedom. Of course down that road lies an argument over definitions, word choice, etc.

  42. Where did all the socialists go after the Berlin wall? They became greens.

    The global warming movement aims to attain government command over the entire economy. You don’t think its just a happy coincidence that the regulation of carbon involves the economic regulation of everything? Gillespie, do you really think that command economics are just coincidental to this whole crisis?

  43. Alan Vanneman,

    The natural world is intrinsically amoral, which is why attempts to find morality in nature always end in disaster…

    This would come as a surprise to numerous natural law theorists.

  44. “If there is a core to environmentalism, it is an attempt to create a different set of goals, not a set of methods for reaching those goals.”

    Yeah – “creating” a different set of goals by trying to mandate everyone else’s goals be subordinate to theirs.

  45. So, if my dog has some terminal disease, it would be moral to throw him into the wood chipper in my back yard, rather than having him euthanized? I wouldn’t take pleasure in it, but it would be way more convenient and cost a lot less.

    As long as it is your dog and not someone else’s.

  46. When talking about government policy, of course, environmentalists talk as much of deregulation, investment, and reform as they do about increasing regulations, but that doesn’t fit into the narrative of the culture wars.

    They must talk about deregulation and investment during their underground, secret discussions to which only you must be privy, because at least here in California, most environmentalists are very vocal about their anti-market, anti-freedom (and sometimes, frighteningly misanthropic) stance.

  47. This [that Nature is amoral] would come as a surprise to numerous natural law theorists.

    One has nothing to do with the other. Natural law is called “natural” because it is intrinsic to human existence, not because it is given by a moral Nature (or a moral Universe).

  48. Since a significant aspect of environmentalism concerns itself with the welfare of human beings and human beings do well under conditions which promote liberty I would say that environmentalism can have a “innate preference” for liberty or freedom.

    Its a question of which value set has priority – individual freedom and liberty, or environmental goals. Most environmentalists, I think, have a very limited willingness to subordinate the accomplishment of their environmental goals to freedom and liberty.

  49. Francisco Torres,

    Well, human beings are part of nature; we are creatures who exist due to natural processes. So if nature is “amoral” how can the natural processes of nature which created human beings create a “moral animal?”

    R.C. Dean,

    Its a question of which value set has priority – individual freedom and liberty, or environmental goals.

    Some subset of environmentalists would simply state they aren’t mutually exclusive goals. I tend to agree. Environmental degradation makes freedom and liberty harder to attain, not easier. Then we get into chicken and egg questions.

  50. Francesco Torres,

    And (in possible anticipation) if the answer is some deity, then how did said deity become a moral agent?

  51. Neu,

    Of course, if you define “socialist” as everything to the left of Rothbard, then most people are socialists.

    This statement implies that Murray Rothbard was on the “right”. These “left/right” labels are actually deceptive: Murray Rothbard was an anarcho-capitalist, which is not a right/left ideology, but a pro-freedom ideology – there lies the BIG difference. And yeah, anybody who espouses a preference for a State IS a socialist. So there.

  52. So if nature is “amoral” how can the natural processes of nature which created human beings create a “moral animal?”

    Morality is interesting only in the presence of free will. If we presume that nature produced humans, that humans have free will, and that humans necessarily operate within the opportunities and constraints of nature, then natural law prescribes human morality.

    Nature, in and of itself, couldn’t possibly care less what humans did to each other. Only humans care.

  53. Environmental degradation makes freedom and liberty harder to attain, not easier.

    This doesn’t follow. In fact, I don’t see how one has to do with the other, unless you’re talking about a Fallen Angels situation. (wink, wink) Care to elaborate?

  54. MikeP,

    It seems given what we are learning about how the human brain works that if free will does exist it exists in association with various deterministic traits that humans have.

    I didn’t mean to imply that nature cared, more that it at first seems counterintuitive that nature is “amoral” yet the creations of nature need not be so.

    Whatever the case, one is still using observations about nature (the nature of humans) to describe and justify particular systems of morality.

  55. “Environmental degradation makes freedom and liberty harder to attain, not easier.”

    No it doesn’t.

    Freedom is the absence of government control.

    What state the environment is in doesn’t have anything to do with it.

  56. Well, human beings are part of nature; we are creatures who exist due to natural processes. So if nature is “amoral” how can the natural processes of nature which created human beings create a “moral animal?”

    Who cares? The reason we are moral creatures is because we have reason and conscience, regardless of how we came to be.

    And (in possible anticipation) if the answer is some deity, then how did said deity become a moral agent?

    I do not believe in deities, and again, who cares?

  57. JW,

    One of the main obstacles to an improved situation for humans in many areas of Africa is the disease situation there. It retards not only economic development but also a whole host of other important factors in human development on an individual and societal level. Similarly throughtout human history overworked soils or soils which have become satured with salts to due to improper irrigation techniques have led to similar problems. These seem like a environmental problems which effect the promotion of freedom and liberty to me.

  58. Whatever the case, one is still using observations about nature (the nature of humans) to describe and justify particular systems of morality.

    Yes.

    If the amoral universe evolves free willed beings, it evolves morality. Those beings would be well served to derive their morality from the conditions of themselves and the nature from which they sprang. Hence natural law prescribes morality.

    If one wonders how morality arises in an amoral universe, one might as well wonder how life arises in a lifeless universe.

    And (in possible anticipation) if the answer is some deity, then how did said deity become a moral agent?

    Incidentally, a deity who also was interested in the morality of humans operating within nature — either because He created nature or because He believed that free willed individuals should build their morality from the opportunities and constraints of their environs — would be completely consistent with a morality prescribed by natural law.

  59. Colin,
    Environmental degradation makes freedom and liberty harder to attain, not easier. Then we get into chicken and egg questions.

    You are confusing freedom with capability. I can be in the middle of a desert, and as long as I do not have a person holding me, I am free to do as I please – which does not mean I have the capability of surviving in the desert. Freedom is being able to act without hindrance from other persons.

  60. MikeP,

    Hence natural law prescribes morality.

    And thus we have a moral system based on nature (whether nature “cares” about the matter or not). Thus nature and natural law have something to do with one another.

    …would be completely consistent with a morality prescribed by natural law.

    My question assumes that. But it isn’t an answer to my question.

  61. Francisco Torres,

    Since the vast majority (99.9%) of human beings live in societies analogies about deserts (or desert islands – a favorite of philosophers and other authors exploring this issue) don’t seem to be that appropriate. Since most humans do live in societies the environmental conditions around those societies would seem to have some effect upon how free a society is.

  62. One of the main obstacles to an improved situation for humans in many areas of Africa is the disease situation there. It retards not only economic development but also a whole host of other important factors in human development on an individual and societal level. Similarly throughout human history overworked soils or soils which have become saturated with salts to due to improper irrigation techniques have led to similar problems. These seem like a environmental problems which effect the promotion of freedom and liberty to me.

    All those problems actually stem from a lack of liberty. The Western World faced very similar problems, and surely we did not solve those problems because we were particularly lucky or had help from the outside.

  63. Colin—While I certainly don’t disagree that the extreme environemtal situation found in Africa exacerbate an existing problem, namely the griding poverty, I disagree that it is the chief obstacle.

    I suggest that the kletpocratic regimes that keeps these people impoversighed through their corrupt practices are the main obstacle to reater liberty and freedom. The environment and/or health crises are just a pile on of an already bad situation.

    Can you find situations throughout history where environmental conditions work against the well-being of the populace? Sure. At the same time, you will also find, given the a culture and rule of law that permits, people finding solutions to these problems, which can then lead to greater economic and personal liberty. Some of the worst environmental conditions in the 20th centruty were created by the most unfree governments, namely the USSR and China. North Korea isn’t looking too hot either and it’s at least clear to me that there is no chicken or egg situation there: the unfree conditions create the ecological mess, not vice versa.

    But you hint at, unintentionally I suspect, what others have been saying all along: that a questionable environment will lead to a degradation of liberty at the hands of the more zealous greens. Publicly proposed GW solutions are dominated by measures that restrict liberty, not ones that capitlaize on it nor expand it.

    I know that you and Neu have spoken of a segment of environmentalists that embrace market-based solutions, and I have no doubt that exists, but those 4 guys can’t be everywhere at once 😉 and certainly aren’t the majority of the overall environmental movement by any reasonable measure.

  64. And thus we have a moral system based on nature (whether nature “cares” about the matter or not). Thus nature and natural law have something to do with one another.

    Only with respect to moral actors — i.e., humans.

    There is no morality in nature apart from humans. Therefore, how humans deal with nature is a moral question only in its effects on how humans deal with each other.

  65. Francesco Torres,

    All those problems actually stem from a lack of liberty.

    Like I wrote, this is somewhat of a chicken and egg issue.

    JW,

    …the unfree conditions create the ecological mess, not vice versa.

    In some situations that may be true. In other situations it may be reversed. I don’t know if this forum is appropriate for the level of analysis needed to decide which is the case in individual situationss. I am merely trying to suggest that it is far harder to create a free society where humans live on the margins and that is why environmental issues should be of some importance to those who advocate freedom.

  66. MikeP,

    Therefore, how humans deal with nature is a moral question only in its effects on how humans deal with each other.

    Well, it seems to me that one could argue that if we humans decide that it is immoral to hunt Javan Rhinos to extinction then it is immoral to do so. So while that may be a human decision, it clearly effects more than how humans deal with one another. It effects the Javan Rhinos and presumably the environment they live in as well. That might be a bit pedantic but it is one initial reaction to your statement.

  67. Well, it seems to me that one could argue that if we humans decide that it is immoral to hunt Javan Rhinos to extinction then it is immoral to do so.

    If one human decides that he will acquire and pay for the upkeep of Javan rhinos and enough of their habitat to guarantee their continuance, and if that is a valid and moral property right, then it is immoral for anyone else to hunt the animals to extinction.

    What “we humans” decide is often a poor indicator of morality.

    As for your further comments on the fact that human actions have deleterious effects on nature qua nature, you are simply defining those actions and their results into morality.

    Would there be morality without humans? If not, why is anything that humans do to nature a question of morality except in how it affects humans?

  68. JW,

    When it comes to markets and environmentalism, rhinos, of the African variety (white and black), are a good example, since eco-tourism has played a significant part in their recovery. Eco-tourism is at least partly based on a market approach folks spend billions on it a year (tens of billions?).

  69. MikeP,

    If not, why is anything that humans do to nature a question of morality except in how it affects humans?

    Is the only reason that we recognize other humans as moral actors that we have decided to do so or because it is innate? If the former, that answers your question, if the latter, then it might also be the case that we find that animals besides are creatures of “moral worth” because we it is innate in us to do so. Whatever the case, pretty clearly (most? all?) human beings historically and perhaps even more so today place moral worth in animals and it is with that particular set of “facts on the ground” that human societies work with.

  70. Colin,
    Like I wrote, this is somewhat of a chicken and egg issue.

    No, it is not, Colin – it is through freedom to act that people solve problems that they face. Again, it was not due to extraordinary luck or by the help of the gods that people in past ages came out of abject poverty into wealth in the Western and Eastern worlds, but due to their freedom to act. The environmental problems that people in Africa and other parts face are due to a lack of freedom and property rights protection. It is no wonder that the poorest places in the world are also the seats for the most oppressive governments and States.

  71. I am merely trying to suggest that it is far harder to create a free society where humans live on the margins and that is why environmental issues should be of some importance to those who advocate freedom.

    I would go further and state that probably in all cases where people live on the margins, building a free society would take a distant back seat to survival, good environment or bad. But, we don’t define the norm through the extremes.

    Liberty and freedom arise where there is popular will to do so and a state that will respect and/or proliferate that will. You can easily have a rule of law that strongly respects personal and economic freedoms, while having a bad lot ecologically, because the ruling elites believe that is the path to prosperity and changing the environmental conditions to the better. It’s no coincidence that wealth is usually a good indicator of relative health.

  72. MikeP,

    Just a thought: the phenomenon of neotony may be a partial “hardwired” explanation for why we find moral worth in animals.

  73. When it comes to markets and environmentalism, rhinos, of the African variety (white and black), are a good example, since eco-tourism has played a significant part in their recovery. Eco-tourism is at least partly based on a market approach folks spend billions on it a year (tens of billions?).

    I couldn’t quote any dollar figure, but yes, very true. It’s like the world is finally lisetning to libertarians. (j/k)

  74. Colin,

    When it comes to markets and environmentalism, rhinos, of the African variety (white and black), are a good example, since eco-tourism has played a significant part in their recovery.

    It is part of a realization that, in order to “save” something, someone must own it.

  75. Frencesco Torres,

    Again, it was not due to extraordinary luck…

    Luck pretty clearly had to do with the advent of civilizations in some areas as opposed to others. “Luck” being the environmental conditions that various human populations found themselves in or moved to. Which is may be why river delta civilizations leaped forward (yeah, that’s a controversial word) re: technology, development of social complexity, etc. people who lived in less ideal regions. An environment and the resources therein have a lot to say about how well a particular group of humans will.

  76. Whatever the case, pretty clearly (most? all?) human beings historically and perhaps even more so today place moral worth in animals and it is with that particular set of “facts on the ground” that human societies work with.

    I wouldn’t call what humans have for animals “moral worth.” I would call it “value.”

    Animals don’t torture other animals without cause — presumably because it is or could be a waste of precious personal resources. When a mother cat gives its young a wounded mouse to play with, it is in order to teach the cat to hunt. Humans evolved in the same nature. It is understandable that they would have the same innate instincts.

    Does this have implications on human morality? I don’t think so, but it is possible. But it is also a poor guide, perhaps limiting human behavior in small corner cases such as torture.

    As another example on how nature treats other animals, consider that wolves do not care about species extinction as they kill the last deer and find themselves starving to death in the next season. Is there a lesson there for humans? Only that commons suck.

  77. JW,

    Well, like I wrote, it is only a partial market-based approach; while there are now private game reserves for rhinos in Africa the first such reserves were government run (as far as I know).

    ________________________

    Anyway, good, thoughtprovoking, etc. discussion.

  78. Its a question of which value set has priority – individual freedom and liberty, or environmental goals.

    Some subset of environmentalists would simply state they aren’t mutually exclusive goals. I tend to agree.

    I would disagree. They are frequently in conflict, else why would we have all the environmental protection laws that we have now?

    Since most humans do live in societies the environmental conditions around those societies would seem to have some effect upon how free a society is.

    How so? Some of the most repressive societies have the richest resource base and/or the most pleasant environments, and some of the most free have no resource base to speak of and/or repressive climates. I don’t get it.

  79. MikeP,

    Animals don’t torture other animals without cause…

    Is that true of chimpanzees? I’ve seen some interesting things on chimpanzees and violence recently which may contradict that statement but I don’t know if I have a good enough grasp on the issue to know if I am right or not.

  80. R.C. Dean,

    You would disagree that some subset of environmentalists would argue that they aren’t mutually exclusive goals? Huh?

    Some of the most repressive societies have the richest resource base and/or the most pleasant environments…

    A lot of those resources may not be appropriate for jumpstarting development. A nation rich in in tungsten or a type of tree which grows on nutrient poor soils but which has little arable soil for example.

    …and some of the most free have no resource base to speak of and/or repressive climates.

    Weren’t most of those free societies resource rich at one point in time?

  81. Is that true of chimpanzees? I’ve seen some interesting things on chimpanzees and violence recently which may contradict that statement

    It’s not without cause. They’re just training themselves to be moral actors.

    You can tell because right after they torture other animals they sign the lyrics of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”.

  82. Gilbert Martin,

    Yeah – “creating” a different set of goals by trying to mandate everyone else’s goals be subordinate to theirs.

    There is a difference between persuading and mandating. Really. There is.

    Francisco Torres,

    This statement implies that Murray Rothbard was on the “right”. These “left/right” labels are actually deceptive: Murray Rothbard was an anarcho-capitalist, which is not a right/left ideology, but a pro-freedom ideology – there lies the BIG difference. And yeah, anybody who espouses a preference for a State IS a socialist. So there.

    Actually, there is a left-right element to Rothbard along the economic freedom axis…with the left pole being centrally controlled economy and the right being the second half of the term “anarcho-capitalist.” There is another axis (“anarcho”), of course, but we both know that so why nitpick.

    underground, secret discussions to which only you must be privy

    I actually just have a library card and the internet.

  83. “There is a difference between persuading and mandating. Really. There is.”

    Name one major environmental group in this country that is NOT in favor of using government to mandate something that they want.

  84. “Animals don’t torture other animals without cause…”

    How do you know?

    I saw a nature documentary show one time where a killer whale had caught a seal and instead of promptly killing and eating it, it played with it by throwing it up in the air repeatedly.

  85. Gilbert Martin,

    Like I said before, if you consider everything short of Anarcho-capitalism socialism, then most people are socialists…But then again, even libertarians sanction government force for those activities they deem legitimate. Libertarianism is just Anarchy-lite…

    Quote of the day:
    Free market capitalist economics is arguably the most powerful tool ever used by civilization. As the world’s leading exemplar of free market economics, the US has a special obligation to discover effective ways of using the power of market forces to help save the environment.

    –Al Gore

  86. Gilbert Martin,

    Name one major environmental group in this country that is NOT in favor of using government to mandate something that they want.

    Off the top of my head-
    The Fair Trade Federation-
    http://www.fairtradefederation.org/ht/d/Home/pid/175

    Of course, they are also a group that includes human welfare as an important goal as well…

    Fair trade is a system of exchange that seeks to create greater equity and partnership in international trading system by

    *
    Paying fair wages in local context;
    *
    Supporting participatory workplaces;
    *
    Ensuring environmental sustainability;
    *
    Supplying financial and technical support;
    *
    Offering public accountability.
    *
    Respecting cultural identity;
    *
    Building direct and long-term relationships; and,
    *
    Educating consumers.

    By approaching development as a whole process (rather than just a fair price), fair trade organizations cultivate partnerships with their suppliers and contribute to the development of communities. Fair trade is not about charity; it uses a fairer system of exchange to empower producers and to create sustainable, positive change.

  87. I would even venture to say Gilbert, that the Fair Trade Federation does more to promote libertarian ideals than a publication like Reason, as they actually implement one of the non-governmental solutions libertarians are so fond of talking (and talking, and talking) about.

  88. I would also put forward The Nature Conservency, since its primary function is to preserve open space through outright purchase of the land, though not exclusively.

  89. “Off the top of my head-
    The Fair Trade Federation”

    They aren’t one of the major environmental groups – such as the Sierra Club.

  90. Gilbert Martin,

    They aren’t one of the major environmental groups – such as the Sierra Club.

    Says you.

    What is your criteria for major?
    Are you talking membership?
    Impact?
    Influence?
    International Reach?
    Actual accomplishments?

    JW provides another example…although NC does work WITH governments to craft policy…not pure enough for your decoder ring I am sure.

  91. “I would even venture to say Gilbert, that the Fair Trade Federation does more to promote libertarian ideals than a publication like Reason, as they actually implement one of the non-governmental solutions libertarians are so fond of talking (and talking, and talking) about.”

    I doubt it – since – based on what you posted about them – they appear to be trying to solve a “problem” that doesn’t exist in the first place.

  92. “Says you.”

    That’s right – says me.

    My original comment was about major environmental groups. And that would be the one’s who oganize themselves and promote themselves as specifically directed toward that issue – not as an ancillary part of some other agenda.

  93. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Business_Council_for_Sustainable_Development

    Probably won’t make Gilbert happy either…

  94. “although NC does work WITH governments to craft policy…”

    In other words, they want to use government to mandate something – just as I said.

  95. Gilbert,

    not as an ancillary part of some other agenda.

    You clearly misunderstand the phrase “approaching development as a whole process.”

    they appear to be trying to solve a “problem” that doesn’t exist in the first place.

    By which you mean, a problem that you are unable to recognize as it would conflict with your assumptions about the way the world works, perhaps?

    Of course if there was not a sufficient number of people who disagreed with you about your assessment of those problems, they would not have been able to grow market share continually since they were founded in the 1940’s (iirc).

  96. In other words, they want to use government to mandate something – just as I said.

    By your criteria, of course, the Libertarian Party are socialists.

  97. Animals don’t torture other animals

    The hell they don’t. Anyone who has even owned a cat knows better than that.

    You would disagree that some subset of environmentalists would argue that they aren’t mutually exclusive goals? Huh?

    There may be a very small fringe that believe this, but I would say anyone who would subordinate their environmental goals to freedom and liberty probably isn’t really an environmentalist.

    Some of the most repressive societies have the richest resource base and/or the most pleasant environments…

    A lot of those resources may not be appropriate for jumpstarting development.

    Like oil?

    …and some of the most free have no resource base to speak of and/or repressive climates.

    Weren’t most of those free societies resource rich at one point in time?

    Not necessarily. Hong Kong, before the Brits gave it to the ChiComs, is one example. I would also throw out Switzerland, and (by way of contrast to the oil kingdoms) Israel.

    Really, I just don’t think you can make any kind of meaningful correlation between native resource base and freedom. If anything, in the modern world, a rich extractive resource base is too easily seized by a repressive government as an independent source of funding.

  98. Of course, there are many environmental groups that not only do not support government mandates, but promote anarchy as the best solution to environmental problems.

    ELF, being the highest profile.

    Are they a major group?

    Does the fact that they are the wrong flavor of anarchists matter?

    They certainly don’t want to use the government to mandate anything.

  99. they appear to be trying to solve a “problem” that doesn’t exist in the first place.

    3rd World poverty?

    C’mon Gil, is someone spoofing you? I don’t see why you would have a problem per se with a private charitable group that wants to accomplish a laudable goal, so long as it isn’t using tax money or lobbying for restrictions on liberty, as the does CSPI, the American Cancer Society, American Lung Assoc., etc.

    If an environmental or overseas development group wants to use free markets to achive their goals, so much the better. We should promote liberty and economic rights wherever and however we can.

  100. ELF, btw, are the face of environmentalism in the same way that Bin Ladin is the face of Islam.

  101. The problem is that not enough people know about environmentalists like this guy…even though the average environmentalist does.

    http://www.paulhawken.com

  102. Other important (major?) environmentalists?

    http://www.ecoliteracy.org/about/index.html

  103. Luck pretty clearly had to do with the advent of civilizations in some areas as opposed to others. “Luck” being the environmental conditions that various human populations found themselves in or moved to. Which is may be why river delta civilizations leaped forward (yeah, that’s a controversial word) re: technology, development of social complexity, etc. people who lived in less ideal regions. An environment and the resources therein have a lot to say about how well a particular group of humans will [thrive? Progress?].

    Forgot to mention that people living in veritable paradises did not arrive to the level of achievement that those of the Egyptian Delta or the fertile crescent – it is not as if life in the Delta was enjoyable in itself. Also, you kind of forget the Greeks, who did not live in a particularly fertile or extremely comfortable place – they achieved their wealth by TRADE, which implies freedom.

  104. Neu,
    I would even venture to say Gilbert, that the Fair Trade Federation does more to promote libertarian ideals than a publication like Reason, as they actually implement one of the non-governmental solutions libertarians are so fond of talking (and talking, and talking) about.

    Actually, Neu, Fair Trade organizations have lobbied European governments to include Fair Trade into commercial and trade legislation. Several countries, including (surprise, surprise!) France, Belgium and the UK.

    There is nothing inherently anti-libertarian about Fair Trade, but it is definitively not an environmental solution, plus it is poor economics. It is more of an ointment to cure gullible guilt-sufferers.

  105. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)?

    Neu, your efforts are appreciated, but groups like the one you mentioned seem to be more focused on using gimmickry and environmentalism to form information cartels than anything else. Just what does Eco-Patent have to do with environmentalism, or libertarianism? Patents by themselves are an affront to Private Property rights, plus the idea of Sustainable Development seems redundant (all development is sustainable when people have freedom to act).

    It also looks like a scheme to create higher market entry barriers – they just need to bamboozle a few politicians into legislating “Sustainable Development” so as to increase the cost of entry to competitors – and bamboozling politicians is not that difficult to do.

  106. If an environmental or overseas development group wants to use free markets to achi[e]ve their goals, so much the better. We should promote liberty and economic rights wherever and however we can.

    Agreeable. So long as these groups try not to rely on the power of the State to reach their environmental agendas, or disseminate economics-illiterate propaganda (like, for instance, Fair Trade)

  107. Neu,
    Actually, there is a left-right element to Rothbard along the economic freedom axis…with the left pole being centrally controlled economy and the right being the second half of the term “anarcho-capitalist.”

    Somehow, I find the terms “freedom” and “right” mutually exclusive. Economic freedom is freedom, pure and simple – the freedom to ACT. You either have freedom, or you don’t. This is why the “economic freedom axis” concept is flawed: it tends to divide personal freedom or social freedom from economic freedom, but there is only freedom or its absence.

    F – […]underground, secret discussions to which only you must be privy. Neu – I actually just have a library card and the internet.

    Yeah, well, don’t believe everything you read – I tend to listen to people’s own words, and I have yet to find a single one environmentalist that does not frighten me. I live in Santa Cruz, so I am privy to the thoughts of the fringe and the “moderate” (if there is such a thing)

  108. Francisco,

    Actually, Neu, Fair Trade organizations have lobbied European governments to include Fair Trade into commercial and trade legislation.

    Are you confusing “fair trade organizations” with “The Fair Trade Federation?”

    Like all movements/ideas…there is diversity of approaches.

    There is nothing inherently anti-libertarian about Fair Trade, but it is definitively not an environmental solution, plus it is poor economics.

    How so?
    Could you elaborate on what you see as “poor economics” in the activities of The Fair Trade Federation?

    As for environmental solutions, agencies that provide accurate consumer information regarding environmental impact are needed if solutions are to remain voluntary rather than mandatory. It is the billions of choices made by individuals that will have a real impact. The approach taken by the fair trade movement is going to be an important element in any effective solution to environmental challenges.

    Patents by themselves are an affront to Private Property rights

    I have seen some hate for patents around here, but “affront” seems a bit strong.

    the idea of Sustainable Development seems redundant (all development is sustainable when people have freedom to act).

    Not true, really.
    People are free to choose the thing that is unsustainable…and they do it all the time, particularly when they have insufficient information when they are making their choice.

  109. Yeah, well, don’t believe everything you read – I tend to listen to people’s own words

    Why do you privilege spoken language over written?

    What you are saying is that you rely on anecdotal evidence based on a small sample of people who get in your face enough to make an association in your mind with their cause…the guy who quietly reduces his environmental impact and passes along know how to his circle of friends is unlikely to get your attention.

  110. economics-illiterate propaganda

    [sigh]

    Those who disagree with you are just ignorant?

    Nah. Couldn’t be that they know something you don’t…

    [sigh]

  111. You either have freedom, or you don’t. This is why the “economic freedom axis” concept is flawed: it tends to divide personal freedom or social freedom from economic freedom, but there is only freedom or its absence.

    So you are more of a “circle of freedom” guy then…with anarchy the result of a move far enough left or right?

    One axis is not a good descriptor of most people’s politics…last time I saw anything empirical on this there were about 9 clusters created with at least three dimensions.

    Authoritarian-Anarchy always gets to be one of them…of course.

  112. Are you confusing “fair trade organizations” with “The Fair Trade Federation?”

    No, and I know the difference.

    How so?
    Could you elaborate on what you see as “poor economics” in the activities of The Fair Trade Federation?

    I cannot say about the Fair Trade Federation per se, but the overall concept is illiterate in economics. It is quite simple: Fair Trade
    means placing a price bottom on certain products, in order to subsidize a particular product and their producers – the intentions behind Fair Trade notwithstanding. What this does is that it distorts the profit-loss test for those activities, by not allowing producers to determine if their production rate is in sync with the market, if they are using their resources efficiently (except following some proposed guideline), or if they place their resources to better use – since there is a guaranteed price, producers are not encouraged to search for alternative products.

    As for environmental solutions, agencies that provide accurate consumer information regarding environmental impact are needed if solutions are to remain voluntary rather than mandatory.

    The problem here is that this argument begs the question – you already assume that the primary information is the environmental impact. It is not, it is PRICE – and it will always be, even in a controlled market.

    You see, if you have a distortion of the profit-loss test (because of the subsidy), then producers will not be encouraged to seek more efficient means of production, better quality manufacturing processes, and whatever can help in making the operation more profitable. Even considering that Fair Trade will impose some sort of stringent manufacturing and production conditions (for example, “sustainable” or organic processes for growing coffee, better working conditions and the like), this does not mean that the process is efficient, without knowing true market prices.

    It is the billions of choices made by individuals that will have a real impact.

    Indeed, but you make a false assumption – that the primary source of information in the market will be environmental impact. This is false – the primary source of information is price, always.

    The approach taken by the fair trade movement is going to be an important element in any effective solution to environmental challenges.

    I do not think so – their approach is still command and control, creating distortions in the profit-loss test. What will happen is that people will eventually stop noticing a difference in coffee or products created by Fair Trade and those obtained in the normal free market, and choose whichever is more economical. This is why the different Fair Trade organizations are lobbying governments and trying to solicit the help of patronizing (and gullible) celebrities.

  113. Those who disagree with you are just ignorant?

    This is what I wrote: “So long as these groups try not to rely on the power of the State to reach their environmental agendas, or disseminate economics-illiterate propaganda (like, for instance, Fair Trade)”

    I already explained above why the assertions of the Fair Trade advocates are economics-illiterate propaganda. That does not mean that they are ignorant because they disagree with me – I merely indicated a fact.

    People are free to choose the thing that is unsustainable…

    You better explain what exactly do you mean by “unsustainable”.

    … and they do it all the time, particularly when they have insufficient information when they are making their choice.

    I do not know what you are talking about. you better explain – what is an unsustainable thing?

  114. Also, you kind of forget the Greeks, who did not live in a particularly fertile or extremely comfortable place – they achieved their wealth by TRADE, which implies freedom.

    most of the Greek city-states were not wealthy, and those that were, namely Athens, got that way via the use of slaves in captured gold mines and by bullying their neighbors with their rather large fleet.

    R.C. Dean,

    There may be a very small fringe that believe this, but I would say anyone who would subordinate their environmental goals to freedom and liberty probably isn’t really an environmentalist.

    Well, the point is that they wouldn’t have to.

    Like oil?

    It has proven to be a curse to many nations.

    Hong Kong, before the Brits gave it to the ChiComs, is one example.

    Well, I did use the term “most.” Furthermore, Hong Kong’s development from the 1950s onward depended in significant part upon the influx of folks (skilled and unskilled) from the mainland following 1949.

    …I would also throw out Switzerland…

    I don’t know enough about the history of Switzerland to say anything about the nation, however, given the historical importance of agriculture there I would suggest that Switzerland had some very favorable aspects from that perspective.

    …and (by way of contrast to the oil kingdoms) Israel.

    Israel has been and remains one of the top recepients of unilateral transfers. Obviously Israelis have invested that money wisely but a lot of the success of Israel can be viewed as the direct outcome of a lot of private foreign support.

    Really, I just don’t think you can make any kind of meaningful correlation between native resource base and freedom.

    I think you can. I think certain geographic regions have greater advantages over others and this in significant degree explains the varying rates of development around the planet.

  115. No wonder libertarians are considered a bunch of nutcases. If you people can figure out a way to control pollution WITHOUT using some aspect of government I’d be all ears for it. Tort law? Right….how are you going to prove that THAT molecule was emitted by THIS smokestack? (Aside from the fact that you don’t have a legal system without some sort of government; please point me towards any case in history where this has not held true. Or do you bozos not KNOW why the term “private law” has come down to us as “privilege”?)

    Oh, and anyone who thinks that “freedom from any regulations”==”no pollution” is kindly requested to read up on the history of the US and how come those regulations got passed in the first place.

    Sheesh!

  116. Oh, and anyone who thinks that “freedom from any regulations”==”no pollution” is kindly requested to read up on the history of the US and how come those regulations got passed in the first place.

    They came into being as part of the legal positivism that grabbed the judiciary in the 19th Century, eroding property rights. Regulations are those created to “fix” problems generated by the State in the first place.

    how are you going to prove that THAT molecule was emitted by THIS smokestack?

    As imbecilic as THAT sounds (considering the small level of contamination produced by only one molecule), the fact is that it is up to the accuser to prove, and not for everybody else to conform to some “one size fits all”-type regulation. Most regulations are actually concocted by, or at least supported by, big corporations, in an effort to increase the cost of entry for competitors.

  117. Francisco Torres,

    You are mistaken in many of your assumptions…

    It is quite simple: Fair Trade means placing a price bottom on certain products, in order to subsidize a particular product and their producers

    That is not a description of Fair Trade. As a result most of your discussion is, well, not quite on target…

    I already explained above why the assertions of the Fair Trade advocates are economics-illiterate propaganda. That does not mean that they are ignorant because they disagree with me – I merely indicated a fact.

    Riiiiight.

    I do not know what you are talking about. you better explain – what is an unsustainable thing?

    Dodo bird feather hat decorations.

    Here’s another environmentalist project…an example of sustainable vs. unsustainable. Might help you understand the concept…might not.

    http://www.interfacesustainability.com/

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