Climate Change Denial

Dave Killion — April 22, 2012

Alberta will be having a provincial election next week, and there is a good chance that Wildrose – the province’s most libertarian party other than the Alberta Libertarian Party – will come out on top. Recently, party leader Danielle Smith made headlines for talking about the weather

“The woman leading a front-running party in Alberta’s provincial election has cast doubt on the widely-accepted scientific theory that human activity is a leading cause of global warming.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith made the comment in an online leaders debate organized by two Alberta newspapers.

“We have always said the science isn’t settled and we need to continue to monitor the debate,” said Smith in response to a direct question from a reader.

In my experience, the folks concerned about climate change usually have four positions –

1) Climate change is happening

2) People are causing it (or exacerbating it)

3) It is going to have catastrophic consequences

4) It can be prevented (or mitigated) by speedy, robust government action

If you are not a climate scientist, but rather, a fiscal libertarian like Smith (or I), I don’t think you should even enter into discussions concerning the first three items. Science is hard, and very few of us have the time, education, or experience to evaluate all the information on this matter. More importantly, we don’t need to, because no matter the nature or degree of the threat, our response to it should be the same.

Humanity is eternally facing any number of apocalyptic threats; climate, meteor strikes, volcanoes, pandemics, and so on. The real question is whether the state is the proper agent for evaluating and acting against these threats. And the real answer is ‘No’. Not only do state actors lack the knowledge and the incentives to handle such matters optimally, but there is also the immorality of using coercive action through government. When collective action is required in the face of adversity, people do best when we rely on persuasion and voluntary interaction. And that’s the case Smith should be making.


klem says

“Science is hard, and very few of us have the time, education, or experience to evaluate all the information on this matter.”

Absolutely not, the science is not hard. The science, when done properly and without lots of wishy washy qualifiers, is easy to comprehend. Its when science is made to sound too hard for the average person to understand, or they don’t have time to look into it, that’s when they take advantage of you and misinform you. Its like the old days when everyone was illiterate, the Bible was incomrehensible to everyone, only preachers could read and only preachers could understand the bible. It was considered too hard for the average person, so they simply had to accept whatever the preaqchers said.

— April 22, 2012

Ashley Johnston says

I will come down closer to klem on this one. It is the job of the scientists to establish cause and effect, and the job of the PR wonks to present it in an accessible form. There is a break in this chain and I tend to think it is the scientists giving the spin doctors an impossible job.

And I just switched, and now I am coming down closer to Dave. Science is a mere branch of philosophy and even simple reasoning, let alone the specialized tools of science, take years of practice to use competently.

What would you say to a layman who said that ‘Economics is hard work’?

Of course it is hard work, but it is also essential.

“All climatologists are skeptics, otherwise they wouldn’t be scientists.”

— April 22, 2012

G says

Further to Dave’s article, if a portion of climate change is caused by human pollution, this pollution, by definition, is the damaging of one person’s property by another person.

Climate change, then, is just the consequence of hundreds of millions of ‘little property rights violations’ to create one big problem.

Tackling the problem of human influenced portion of climate change will be impossible without recognizing property rights on a small scale first.

— April 23, 2012

Kyle says

Hey Dave, I’m back! You’re totally right that 4 is where the smart money is for arguments against cap and trade or carbon taxes… Smith’s “science isn’t settled” line of argument is much, much weaker because it pits politicians against the scientific consensus, which is rarely a winning position in the long run. Jim Manzi has been making this point for years and years, and I’m astounded that it hasn’t been more widely adopted by climate change skeptics/people against more carbon regulation.

G is also right that climate change can be conceptualized as the consequence of “hundreds of millions of ‘little property rights violations’ to create one big problem.” But I think this demonstrates the limits of a strictly torts-based approach… our legal system would simply be overwhelmed by trying to address hundreds of millions of violations, with millions of separate plaintiffs and tortfeasors, across provincial, national and transnational jurisdictions. Arguments against coercion aside, a carbon tax would simply be more economically efficient given the deadweight loss inherent in creating ungodly amounts of new jobs for lawyers when we should be building dikes and levees!

— April 24, 2012

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