July 12, 2006

Global warming and the end of human freedom

Humans and human institutions are clearly failing the planet.

And when environmental catastrophes finally hit the tipping point, panicked societies will start to fail humanity itself. Preventing global warming, it would seem, is not just about preserving the biosphere, it’s also about preserving human freedom.

At the recent IEET conference at Stanford University, environmentalist Walter Truett Anderson declared that global warming is the single most important problem to ever face humanity. In a history dominated by everything from plagues to genocide, that's a rather bold statement to make, and likely very true.

So, why aren't we mobilizing en masse to deal with the crisis? Why isn’t it the first thing we think about when we wake up and the last thing before bed? The reasons are frustratingly multifaceted--a long list that includes such factors as corporatist indifference (think of the Kyoto failure), a population largely ignorant and in denial, and an insufficient sense of crisis. The sky, after all, is not falling...at least not yet.

Another reason is the democratic and libertarian streak that now permeates all liberal societies. Rather than state coercion, people are expected to act voluntarily and to democratically establish institutions that will contend with problematic issues like global warming. The general assumption is that people tend to be intelligent, reasonable and self-preserving. Give them a good reason to act and they will do so out of their own volition.

Unfortunately, as the global warming issue has revealed, this tendency has not been put into practice to any great extent. SUV’s and Hummers dominate the streets, factories churn out the pollutants, and country after country fail the minimum requirements established by Kyoto—with other countries either not participating or threatening to pull out altogether (like Canada, for example).

Sadly, the only time in human history when people have been effectively mobilized for mega projects is when a state declares war on another, or when the state declares war on its own citizens (as witnessed by authoritarian dictatorships or totalitarian fascism, communism and theocratism). I don’t use these examples lightly. They reveal disturbing insights into human behavior and selfishness, the inefficacy of political and corporate institutions, and ultimately, the role of state coercion throughout human history. In the case of war and totalitarianism, they are political phenomenons that are both emblematic and driven by feelings of desperatism. Under these conditions, populations are compelled by their governments to fanatically work towards desired ends. And these ends, of course, trump such niceties as human liberty.

Sure, there’s no seemingly obvious reason for alarm or desperatism today—-but it’s not implausible to suggest that quai-totalitarian frameworks will arise as a result of the calamitous effects of global warming. Once the environment truly goes to hell and it becomes overtly obvious that a catastrophe is actually happening, our respective governments will find ways to a) control its fearful populace, and b) compell its citizens to live and work a certain way. It would be George Orwell on hydraulic despotism.

Such state prerogatives may come about through democratic processes—governments elected out of fear and panic. Or, these political regimes may arise from unilateral political action (a la the current Bush regime; as American libertarians are finally learning, when times get tough, the liberties get going). Regardless, they will morph into governments driven by a frantic and panicked call to action.

So, along with the environment, it’ll only be a matter of time before you can kiss your free ass good bye.

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Anonymous said...

While I don't disagree that global warming has been observed over a relatively short period, its not at all clear to me that it is entirely or mostly human-caused, much less that we are somehow collectively failing the planet.

Our understanding of the climate is still far too limited to make such conclusive statements, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Or you could buy the book _An Inconvenient Truth_, which has all data available in the movie and more.

Anonymous said...

There may indeed be consensus, but I consider that largely irrelevant to science. Either something is factual and supporeted by data, experiments, observations and so on, or it isn't.

Keep in mind all the things that once enjoyed the consensus of the scientific community and beyond, such as eugenics and more recently the fear of catastrophic global cooling and an impending ice age.

Considering we've only been able to take accurate measurements of the planet's temperature for a very short period, I have a hard time believing we have enough data to make conclusions.

I will continue to look into the matter with an open mind. I also encourage global warming 'believers' to do the same. Consider how unfortunately politicized this issue has become, and try to remain objective. Things like "An Inconvenient Truth" may be more about manipulating evidence to support a theory and subsequent political policy than simply following the evidence wherever it goes.

Danila Medvedev said...

When you speak about communism please keep in mind that it is better than liberal corporate dictatorship. And that it was the success of communism in Russia that brought increased freedoms to people in the West.

Anonymous said...

There is no question that global warming is real and is caused by human activities. This absurd debate is only present in America, much like the question of whether the Holocaust actually happened is only present among neo-Nazis and other white supremacist groups.

And yes, people will continue to destroy the environment until it completely devastates the world. Governments will turn toward authoritarian, brutal measures, assuming enough people survive to even make an organized government possible.

The end result of global warming will be that the Earth is about 50 degrees warmer on the whole than it is today. The poles will become like the tropics, and any land outside the Arctic circle will be totally uninhabitable. A few hardy species will have the Earth all to themselves, like certain kinds of weeds, fungi, insects and so forth. Some people will survive the coming changes, but only perhaps a few hundred thousand, as scattered, barbaric tribes inhabiting the polar regions. Everything we value, everything that makes human life enjoyable, will be destroyed by global warming. No more lazy Sundays and ice cream cones, no more luxury and convenience, no more summer vacations and winter holidays. Life will become a horrible, painful struggle for those few that survive.