Editor’s note: This commentary originally appeared at LewRockwell.com and is reprinted here with permission.
All domestic, commercial, and industrial facilities obtain their energy services (e.g. electricity, heating, and cooling) primarily from the nationwide electric and natural gas utility grids. These matrices of wires and pipes that traverse the countryside, towns, and cities evolved during the past century to become true marvels of the modern industrial age providing virtually universal access to effective, clean, abundant, convenient, and inexpensive energy with no more effort than the flick of a switch. Indeed, these energy grids that put an end to the drudgery of foraging for fuel are the very essence of productivity, security, and prosperity in the modern world.
Modernity is the result of capitalistic industrialization, entrepreneurial initiative, and free-market socialization. Its results are eagerly sought everywhere; but its methods and means are just as widely misunderstood, mistaken, misconstrued, maligned, and misused. Among the misguided reactions against modernity are concerns that man’s energy appetite has grown to the point where it is damaging the environment and climate in which he lives. Whether or not this concern has a scientific justification, it has produced sentimental consequences that have become the target of public policy, which has spawned legislation aimed at natural resource conservation, environmental protection, and climate change resistance. The implementation of this legislation has resulted in a degree of industrial regulation that is tantamount to de-industrialization with predictably retrograde consequences. Among other things, these policies have more than doubled the cost of obtaining electricity from its grid in less than a decade, during which time the grid has begun to deny service on random occasions.
The greater part of this escalation of electricity costs and unreliabilities is traceable to just one of the policy objectives, namely climate change resistance. The proxy for that objective is stringent control of “greenhouse gas” emissions, which is being sought out of fear that continued fuel-burning by humans will increase the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere to the point where the Sun will overheat the planet and plunge the climate into an irreversible warming trend with catastrophic consequences for mankind.
But why pick on CO2? Green plant life cannot get enough of the stuff. After all, there are other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere with greater solar interaction and fewer environmental benefits to sacrifice than CO2.
The answer to this question is an example of the streetlight effect:
A policeman sees a drunk searching for something under a streetlight. He asks the drunk, “What have you lost?” The drunk replies, “I lost my keys.” They both proceed to look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes, the policeman asks the drunk if he is sure he lost them here. The drunk replies, “No, I lost them in the park.” The policeman asks, if that’s the case, why are you searching here?” The drunk replies, “This is where the light is.”
Recall that legislation only works on people. People do things that put CO2 in the air. The other gases in the air are not as anthropogenic as CO2. To compensate, government conjured up some studies to show a plausible story connecting human industrial activity and atmospheric CO2. This story sufficed to justify legislation.
As with most stories, this one begins with some facts. It seems some atmospheric scientists recently discovered that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere nowadays is almost twice what it was at the beginning of the industrial age, when the burning of fossil fuel began to expand and man’s emission of CO2 into the atmosphere burgeoned. Scientists found the CO2 had increased from roughly 250 parts per million (ppm) in about 1800 to about 400 ppm presently, an increase of about 60 percent in a little over two hundred years. Sound the alarm.
But hold on. Geologists and meteorologists have determined that, quite coincidentally as far as anyone knows, and having no apparent connection with humans, the Earth was coming out of the Little Ice Age during this same period. That’s when the Earth began returning to thermal normality whereupon its great carbon reservoir, the ocean, began to gain some heat and lose some of its vast store of carbon to the atmosphere. This shifting equilibrium between the ocean and the atmosphere at this time in history raises to question how much of the supposedly offending CO2 in the atmosphere can be attributed to human activity. Alas, only the human contribution is subject to human control; and that turns out to be minuscule in the face of nature. So the case against humanity for climate alteration becomes debatable. If it is debatable, it is not fit subject matter for legislation. But the wheels of government grind on oblivious to the controversy.
The government’s story got the jump on the public. Already, the “Chicken Little” effect has taken hold:
A chick called “Chicken Little” believes the sky is falling when an acorn falls on its head. The chick decides to go tell the King and on its journey meets other animals who join in the quest to avoid disaster.
One of the most widely promoted ideas of all time asserts that more human-generated CO2 in the atmosphere means a stronger greenhouse effect and an irreversibly warming climate. This idea is based on tacit assumptions: (1) that the greenhouse effect is the principal determinant of the Earth’s temperature, (2) that the strength of the greenhouse effect is proportional to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and (3) that humans are responsible for the presence offending gas (i.e., CO2 is a pollutant, and humans are polluters). It is also assumed that the audience is ignorant of physics and will accept the story as truth ipse dixit (on the authority of the one in charge).
Now riding on the bandwagon of an alleged world-wide consensus of scientists, and impervious to or oblivious to or in denial of the obvious questions raised by skeptics, many are convinced this story is the gospel truth: that a monster heat wave and tidal inundation is imminent unless a promiscuous humanity can be appropriately brought to heel. No typical natural disaster, this public safety crisis-in-the-making is Apocalyptic; and it is attributable to human gluttony, a moral failing that naturally calls for paternalistic government to rein in the offending behavior with broader and more stringent emission regulation and selected life-style changes.
So mankind is treated to yet another scheme for political conquest. Is this one any different from those anticipated by the master whose “Prince” is the generic term for political government? What is political government but the institutionalization of conquest?
“Of all the defining characteristics of government, the most essential and least avoidable is the origin of government itself: conquest. Conquest is “the action gained by force of arms; acquisition by war; subjugation of a country … by vanquishing; gaining of victory.” The Compact Oxford Dictionary, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1971. Theodore J. Lowi, Incomplete Conquest: Governing America, Second Edition, Dryden Press, Holt, Reinhart, Winston, New York, 1981, p. 7.
Now we know what the carbon abatement program is all about.