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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Climate activism and the thrilling possibility for totalitarianism 


Lest the more liberal readers of this blog wonder why we are so emotional in our objection to climate-change hysteria in the press, it is because we suspect that leftists around the world secretly welcome global warming because its mitigation can justify virtually any regulation or intervention. The Speaker of the House did nothing to reassure us today:

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Beijing on Thursday to cooperate on climate change, calling a safe environment a basic human right....

"I do see this opportunity for climate change to be ... a game-changer," she said at Tsinghua. "It's a place where human rights — looking out for the needs of the poor in terms of climate change and healthy environment — are a human right."

To achieve this, Pelosi said governments would have to make decisions and choices based on science.

"They also have to do it with openness, transparency and accountability to the people," she said. "Everyone has to have their situation improved by it."

In answering a question from a student about how Pelosi was going to get Americans to cut back on their carbon emissions, the leading Democratic lawmaker said it was important to educate children on how to conserve energy and for citizens to build more environmentally friendly homes.

"We have so much room for improvement," she said. "Every aspect of our lives must be subjected to an inventory ... of how we are taking responsibility." (emphasis added)

It does not torture the language to observe that only a totalitarian believes that every aspect of our lives must be subjected to an inventory. It may be benign and well-motivated totalitarianism, but so was Communism in its early days. There may be no risk of secret police and old-school oppression, but new technology and norms allows for new-school oppression that does not look at all like the old.

The question, of course, is whether Pelosi simply misspoke or was taken out of context, or whether this was a rather creepy slipping of the mask. Chatting as she was with the Chinese, she may have felt comfortable letting her rhetorical hair down.

Either way, I would feel a lot better about the policy response to AGW if the most vocal proponents did not seem to relish the chance for regulation in the abstract. I love the mass consumer, drive everywhere, fly anywhere world in which we live -- I pinch myself every time I get on a plane to go somewhere interesting -- and view the need to regulate greenhouse gases, if there is such a need, as a tragedy for all mankind. Candidly, I think any reasonably affluent person (by which I mean at least the top 50% of Americans and Europeans) who does not feel the same way on this issue is at best a romantic loon who is completely out of touch with the consequences of living off of less inanimate energy, the future that Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, and countless other lefty politicians seem actually to look forward to. The only reason I can imagine why they want to embrace this dark and cold and joyless future rather than confront it with despair and gloom is that they see it as an opportunity to take "an inventory" of "every aspect of our lives."

23 Comments:

By Anonymous tyree, at Thu May 28, 03:16:00 PM:

"The question, of course, is whether Pelosi simply misspoke or was taken out of context, or whether this was a rather creepy slipping of the mask."

Pelosi was a member of the socialist "Progressive Caucus" in the US Congress before she was made Speaker of the House.  

By Anonymous Hugh, at Thu May 28, 03:52:00 PM:

THawk:Aside from enjoying your sundry posts re: Adirondacks- I happen to know Lake George very well, and would opine that whenever one can, one's children should be aggressively introduced to "nature".Whilst some of us(too many?) have incredibly "soft" & comfy lives, it comes with a covert price.To wit: we are loosing touch with nature (too much "air-conditioning")and as such , we are loosing touch with "reality"...I submit that this is why many folks are ( or were!) buying into David Suzuki's&AlBore's bulltwaddle- wonder how Al's fund@ Kleiner Perkins is doing,eh!)...they simply do not know from nature- as my N.Y.C amigos might say.More's the pity on this most salubrious continent.I am not surprised nor shocked by climate change as I have spent the better(best) part of my life on water-in all seasons, change in climate is one of the constants of life on this planet.Who can appreciate that fact @ 57th & Fifth? I am reminded of Princess Elton John@ the GeorgeV ,bitching about how the rain in Paris was interferring with his afternoon tea-on-the-terrace.Heh.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 28, 03:56:00 PM:

She and James Hansen are on the same page, if indeed she was speaking from her true political heart in this insatnce.

By the way, I love your use of "her mask was slipping" in connection with a comment on Pelosi; it's a scary thought considering how much plastic surgery has gone into that particular mask.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Thu May 28, 04:06:00 PM:

Could we trade Pelosi to the Chinese for one of their finance ministers and a future second round pick?  

By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Thu May 28, 04:13:00 PM:

"I love the mass consumer, drive everywhere, fly anywhere world in which we live -- I pinch myself every time I get on a plane to go somewhere interesting -- and view the need to regulate greenhouse gases, if there is such a need, as a tragedy for all mankind. Candidly, I think any reasonably affluent person (by which I mean at least the top 50% of Americans and Europeans) who does not feel the same way on this issue is at best a romantic loon"

As a libertarian sympathizer I couldn't agree more as to your main point, regarding the eco-tyrants. However I found the statement above to be a rather closed minded and off putting. I do not love consumer culture, despise the 'drive everywhere' nature of many American cities and suburbs (would rather die than live in LA, Phoenix, Houston, etc), believe a shopping mall is among the most depressing places on earth, and generally believe we are excessively wasteful as a society and that that is not ok.

I guess its fine to believe that anyone who does not share your love of these things is a romantic loon, but that seems a rather myopic view of the world. I think there is room for a difference of opinion on this and other matters.

If I were not your brother and used to periodic sweeping statements of this nature I might be offended.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu May 28, 04:27:00 PM:

Well, look, there are obviously many people who are wasteful, and I think it would be great if they were less wasteful. I even deplore some waste, and also pretty much hate shopping malls. But neither do I think that you do not love consumer culture. You may dislike low brow consumer culture, but you like traveling the world, consuming food from places that are further than a wagon-trip away (and sometimes across an ocean or a continent), and enjoying visiting completely different parts of the country in your spare time. I'm the same way. I would prefer to spend my weekends in the Adirondacks than in a mall, but the former is far more energy-intensive than the latter.  

By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Thu May 28, 04:42:00 PM:

Perhaps. But it does not have to be.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 28, 05:02:00 PM:

I think there's room for both views in this world, for those who live wastefully and those who are thrifty. The price mechanism is a wonderful way for individuals to differentiate the costs and benefits and make individual decisions accordingly. If one wants to affect prices via Pigou taxes, that's very often something that attracts lots of political supporters.

There have always been totalitarians among us. The big issue is obviously that we live in dangerous times right now, since those citizens whose politics make it acceptable to advocate, as Hansen does, the end to democratic decision making find a way to become ascendant, and especially dangerous times if those very powerful citizens like Nancy Pelosi might be among that crowd.  

By Blogger Christopher Chambers, at Thu May 28, 05:03:00 PM:

And what's your ideal future--Blade Runner (with "affluent people") living "off-world?"). You're nuts. It'll be worse. Soylent Green. But you all will always find a way to squirrel away the beef.

By the way, you let come and go the 25th anniversary of the old Soviet Union and allies boycotting the LA Olympics, thus begiining the march to the apotheosis of Ronald Reagan. Too busy obessing about bullcrap to note.  

By Anonymous Brian Schmidt, at Thu May 28, 05:03:00 PM:

TH would probably classify me among his "liberal" readers but might be surprised that I agree on some of this. The reduction of travel opportunities, particularly international air travel, will likely be one of the biggest cultural costs caused by climate change. On the other hand, we'll be breathing much cleaner air and live in cities that are full of trees. Things could be worse. And eventually, carbon-neutral biofuels can replace jet fuels.

Of course the costs of doing nothing about climate change far exceed the costs of action, especially because it's certain that we will have to take action. The only question is how bad things will be before we take action.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 28, 05:11:00 PM:

"Of course the costs of doing nothing about climate change far exceed the costs of action, especially because it's certain that we will have to take action."

Confident statements like this baffle me. Given that climate change is a constant and no one can prove there has been any impact at all on climate change from human activity, it's silly beyond comprehension to assert such bullcrap. Climate models have little or no credibility, so please don't bore me with recititaions of nonsense.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Thu May 28, 05:25:00 PM:

I think it's fascinating that the part of the political spectrum that demands instant and draconian response to "climate change" are the same people who:

1. Profit massively from the undertaking.
2. Actively resist less draconian measures to deal with very real and immediate threats to our lives and fortunes, such as terrorism and nuclear proliferation.
3. Propose socialistic, government mediated, top heavy solutions rather than enlist the enormous power of the free market.

Gee...do you SUPPOSE that there might be an ULTERIOR MOTIVE??!!  

By Blogger SMGalbraith, at Thu May 28, 06:07:00 PM:

I've come to the conclusion that we are indeed doing serious harm to the planet with these emissions and have to, with reluctance, give greater power to the state to mitigate this.

But it's a dangerous action, fraught with potential abuse that is needed. Not wanted. Needed.

But as TH points out, my new-found friends seem to be gleeful about this opportunity. For me, it's like getting a colonscopy; you just gotta' do it.  

By Blogger Pyrus, at Thu May 28, 06:31:00 PM:

My low regard for Pelosi is hard to express in polite language so I won't bother. But I don't think it's inherently unreasonable for an elected official to offer governmental intervention as a solution to a problem that burdens multiple governments. What I think you're really saying is that Nancy shouldn't salivate so openly at the prospect of having all the additional power that governments lay claim to during a crisis. Fair enough but honestly what elected official, liberal or conservative, wouldn't?

The next questions are: is the planet getting hotter (scientific consensus is yes) and if it is, can humans do something to make it stop (of course we can, we're a clever species) and if we can, should we (maybe, what are our options)?

As it relates to public policy, the question is: is global warming a special kind of problem that governments have to fix rather than individuals. Well, it looks more like a tragedy of the commons than even the commons - I mean we're talking about global climate here.

So what does history teach us about this class of problem? Has any polluted river ever been cleaned up without government intervention? That's not a rhetorical question. I personally have no idea but I fervently hope the answer is yes. What little I know says that the solution that minimizes government involvement looks like a synthetic market (e.g., carbon credit trading).

But I'm sure there are other commenters who know more than me.  

By Blogger Kinuachdrach, at Thu May 28, 07:10:00 PM:

Pelosi in China -- a useful idiot being taken to the cleaners.

Ahead of the helplessly profligate hot air festival in far-off Copenhagen, China has apparently laid down its marker (according to recent press reports). China is demanding:
(1) that the West impose on itself even more stringent, job-destroying, economy-flattening CO2 reductions than weak-kneed people like Nancy can imagine.
(2) that the West send large amounts of money to places like China to "help them adjust".

There have also been mutterings from the Islamic world that the West will need to compensate them for the future loss of oil income -- they will need to "adjust" too.

Once Nancy & her friends realize that she has been signing up for international revenue sharing, and the sharing all comes from "her" kitty, we may find a strange new respect in liberal circles for the growing mountain of scientific evidence that casts extreme doubt on the ever more tenuous hypothesis of alleged anthropogenic global warming.  

By Anonymous Moody Deep Thinker, at Thu May 28, 08:33:00 PM:

Since the big rage is taking personal responsibility how 'bout this for an idea.

Require that every conversation or communication between any lobbyist and legislator be available online for review by the constituents. We have the technology today to do this. And it would get to the source of a lot of our legislative problems. Think of the energy it would save if we could look up what some lobbyist told some legislator before some bill was passed. Sure would clear a few things up for us all.  

By Anonymous Marja, at Thu May 28, 10:00:00 PM:

'The only reason I can imagine why they want to embrace this dark and cold and joyless future rather than confront it with despair and gloom is that they see it as an opportunity to take "an inventory" of "every aspect of our lives."'

Besides, they probably trust that it wont affect their personal lifestyle that much. After all, they are the important people. They need their private airplanes for their important work.  

By Blogger Andrewdb, at Thu May 28, 11:09:00 PM:

Does anyone else notice how "AA-speak" she sounds?  

By Anonymous feeblemind, at Thu May 28, 11:27:00 PM:

TH, I couldn't agree with you more on the mass consumer, fly anywhere, drive anywhere world. People who disdain it need to read history to see how truly fortunate we are to live in this time. We are better fed, healthier, live longer, and have more leisure time than any time in the history of the world. The tragedy is that many now see the slaying of imaginary dragons as more important than the welfare of human beings.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri May 29, 12:30:00 AM:

I can't believe, after a decade of cooling, people can still be gulled by the Global Warming Nazis. It's gone well beyond farce now. Wake up, you idiots who have bought into this scam hook, line and sinker! "Science" isn't a belief system. If you don't understand it, don't just assume those who claim they do are acting in your best interest.

I do understand it. It's crap. Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Fri May 29, 06:27:00 AM:

Pyrus, you are right in all of this. There are, however, a couple of observations. First, while there is a consensus that temperature is rising at the margin, notwithstanding a decade of cooling and all the other questions about the data that remain unanswered, it is not at all clear what the consequences will be. The "science" that drives the consequences is actually not much more than the output of computer models, earlier generations of which have proved to be wrong. So most of the rhetoric to justify the most aggressive regulatory proposals is the result of a computer model. To a normal smart person, this is like demanding a massive revision to the global economy because somebody's model predicts that the stock market will be lower in ten years than it is today. Both are chaotic systems that are excrutiatingly difficult to model.

Anyway, the point of my post was, obviously, a bit different: Many of us would be more persuaded by the need to regulate if the people proposing the regulations did not have such a fanciful and absurd vision of the result of that regulation.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri May 29, 03:12:00 PM:

With the very fresh example of some of the worlds best minds having found that their models of derivative values in market meltdowns seriously mispriced the securities, how can any sane person believe far more complicated climate modeling done by much less accomplished individuals has any validity at all? It's absolutely amazing to me that anyone takes these models as something other than the deranged ravings of egomanicial kooks.  

By Blogger davod, at Fri May 29, 04:23:00 PM:

This was Pelosi's way of bring up Human Rights without actually mentioning China's real problems.  

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