I have noticed there is a pretty big overlap between the crowd who did not go along with the COVID totalitarianism of the past two years, the strange nightmare from which society now seems to be waking up, and the people who assume that climate change must be some sort of hoax or exaggeration to take away their freedom.
And so I tend to get a lot of comments and conflicts on this subject. There are a number of aspects in this regard that fundamentally differ and matter to me personally.
-Death is an inevitable part of the human condition. It’s something that we can’t avoid, it’s something we can only delay. Preventing someone’s death from COVID saves them anywhere between two and ten years of life expectancy, depending on who you wish to believe.
-This is different from the threat faced by our planet. Species that took millions of years to come into existence, may now go extinct. Their extinction is not necessary. If humans are willing to make a sacrifice, we are able to preserve much of God’s creation.
In other words, there’s a distinction here between the individual, who thinks he is entitled to being protected from the prospect of death by violating the rights of younger people, versus the obligation that we have towards the world we were born into. Kennedy famously said: “Don’t ask what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” And similarly, I would say: Don’t ask to be protected from nature, ask that nature be protected from you.
Nature is the closest thing we have to an indisputable message from whatever entity or process you believe gave birth to our world. It has intrinsic value. It is by cherishing and protecting the message left behind for us to discover, from the eusocial shrimp in the sponges of the Great Barrier Reef, to the orangutans in the forests of Indonesia, to the polar bears of the Arctic, to the wild macaws of the Amazon rain forest, that we demonstrate our loyalty and devotion to the Creator. Not by locking up young children in their homes who might spread a respiratory virus that kills elderly people with four comorbidities if they were to play outside with each other.
Second, there’s a difference in quality, between the kind of science that scientists reluctantly had to accept after decades of consistent observations, versus the bizarre phenomena that took place during the COVID pandemic. Science can never be seen as fully separate from the cultural context in which it is produced. The COVID science was produced in a context of mass hysteria and thus reeks of it.
Every Western government had some sort of plan in place that explained how to respond to an unusually severe Influenza pandemic. These plans emphasized that they could also be used for other viruses and made it clear that the sort of measures that we ended up implementing would be ineffective and amount to flagrant human rights violations. For whatever reason, those plans were suddenly ignored in March 2020 and we ended up with governments that prohibited us from leaving our home unless we had to go to the supermarket. This doesn’t just represent an abandonment of the Western liberal tradition, it represents a break with years of public health science.
The vaccines similarly don’t meet the kind of standards you would expect from a product administered to hundreds of millions of people. The Emergency Use Authorization makes it clear that you’re dealing with a rushed product. The manufacturers had legal immunity from lawsuits and refused to sell their product to countries that wouldn’t offer them such immunity. When India demanded a local trial, India didn’t get their vaccine.
You’re entirely right, to refuse to participate in an experiment that is the product of rushed science in a context of mass hysteria. But you know what’s not rushed science?
This is a newspaper article, from 1902. It warns that we will eventually have to abandon fossil fuels, because the carbon will end up accumulating in the atmosphere. They had no clue back then how much our per capita consumption of fossil fuels would grow, so they thought it would take thousands of years before we had to stop using them, but they realized that we were changing our environment.
The problem was eventually forgotten by most people again and after the second world war there were just a handful of scientists who remembered we had a problem, but it took until the 70’s until the question emerged again. And even back then, there was again a high degree of skepticism. Many scientists thought the ocean would just store most of the carbon for us. Some thought that the pollution from fossil fuels that blocks the sun would be a more urgent threat.
Only once we had a proper atmospheric record that revealed carbon dioxide gradually accumulating in the atmosphere did scientists have to come to the conclusion that yes, there is in fact a problem emerging here. Rushed science has a habit of being bad science, Ferguson’s models of the deaths we would witness without lockdowns are the perfect example. But a looming threat that we have known about for more than a century, that we only began to take seriously in the 1970’s, that’s not rushed science. If anything, that’s us being passive and reckless.
The other important thing to understand, is that disease is a natural part of the human condition. Our legal system, that is designed to respect and avoid interfering with our natural rights, came into existence in a context of widespread infectious disease. The American revolution, the French revolution, the revolutions of 1848, these are foundational events where we decided how our societies should look. They also took place however, in a context of infant mortality rates around 25% and a widespread prevalence of infectious disease, that many scientists already believed to be transmitted from person to person. And yet, we never contemplated this new notion, of restricting the most basic of human liberties to prevent the spread of disease.
The idea that a government has to prevent the spread of disease by curtailing the natural rights of healthy people, is a fundamental break with the Western classical liberal tradition. At a deeper level, the idea that people should be shunned if they carry disease, is a fundamental break with the Christian tradition, from which Western liberalism derives. Liberalism is a dirty word to today’s conservatives, but the US constitution is also a product of the Western classical liberal tradition.
And at an even deeper level, the idea of preserving our lives by phasing out social interaction, is the most disturbing development in the history of human evolution. It represents a fundamental break with our roots. What sets mammals apart from the other vertebrates is touch. The mothers nurse their young by producing milk. As we developed hands with opposable thumbs that allow us to manipulate our environment, our primate ancestors became increasingly social. We groomed each other, manipulating each other’s skin with our hands to remove parasites, we kiss and overall just appear to be a species that constantly wants to touch one another.
Avoiding physical contact to avoid the spread of disease works, but it represents a fundamental break with the path of evolution that our ancestors embarked upon. And that matters, because we are a species that grew from small bands of hunter-gatherers, to 8 billion individuals today. This will not be the last new virus that jumps into our species, for us to decide that we have to maintain our population density and avoid disease by ending social interaction and migrating into some sort of virtual world would represent the end of the human experiment.
So how does this compare to the climate change problem? The climate change problem is a product of a violation of our rights. All of us own the atmosphere as a collective. You can divide land up into portions and an individual owner of land can compensate the rest of us for his seizure from the commons. You can’t meaningfully divide up the atmosphere. Whatever one person adds to the atmosphere, all of us end up having to put up with.
The fossil fuel companies are legal entities predominantly owned by a small wealthy minority of the world’s population, that manage to get away with a big unearned privilege: The privilege of using the commons (our atmosphere) as a dumping ground for their waste product, without having to financially compensate the rest of us. It’s ultimately a fundamental violating of our rights, that goes on without most people really caring about it.
If I dumped a bunch of empty beer bottles in my neighbor’s garden, because I don’t feel like walking to the supermarket, my neighbor would say: “Hey hold on there, you can’t do that, this is my property!” Or, more realistically, he would just punch me in the face.
But now look at the bizarre situation, you have been conditioned to accept as normal. The air that you inhale, is being transformed into the sort of air that existed when dinosaurs walked this Earth. A bunch of people, like the Rockefeller family, the Koch family and the house of Saud, became wealthy through this swindle. They change the air, but earn enough money selling their product to deal with the consequences. The Saudi’s will just buy air conditioning, go on vacation in Europe and block the sun if things get really nasty. On the other hand, if you live in rural Kenya or Congo, all you’re left with is the damage and none of the benefits.
Even if you pretend that carbon dioxide itself is harmless, tens of millions of people die every year from the air pollution produced from fossil fuels. Shareholders of the electricity companies benefit, shareholders of the fossil fuel companies benefit, but you as an average bloke end up paying the price, in the form of damage to your lungs, that sets you up for COPD and other misery later down the line. What goes on is fundamentally a theft from the commons, that you have been conditioned to believe somehow benefits you.
Climate scientists like Chris Hansen recognize this and thus proposed a carbon dividend: Rather than the fossil fuel companies getting all the profit and leaving us with the dust that settles in our lungs and a climate that changes, every citizen of a country should receive an equal amount of money based off the amount of carbon that enters the atmosphere. This way carbon emissions are discouraged and all of us have some money that helps us adjust to the changing situation.
And if Joe Sixpack in West Virginia gets a cheque every month as compensation for the landscape he lives in being destroyed through mountaintop removal, Joe now has an incentive to say this situation is not acceptable. He will demand a fair price for the carbon dumped into the atmosphere.
Fundamentally, the problem here is that people don’t critically look at issues that affect us. Rather, we have a spectrum of trust, that explains almost the entirety of political differences we see today: The centre-left has a high degree of trust in authority, the far-right has very little trust in authority. We don’t look at issues individually, we either trust that the authorities are correct, or we fundamentally distrust them and assume that whatever they come up with must be intended to make our lives miserable.
If you have a low socio-economic status, you tend to end up on the distrust side of the spectrum. You may come to believe that the world is run by satan-worshipping pedophiles, Jews, reptiles or other nefarious actors. If on the other hand, you have a high socio-economic status, you tend to end up convinced that the system works pretty well and whatever problems we face are trivialities we’ll figure out a solution for.
These two processes go hand in hand by the way. It’s not just that having a low socio-economic status makes you distrust the system. Rather, trusting the system also leads you to the kind of lifestyle that increases your socio-economic status. Perhaps you are very good at math. Although you might theoretically be perfectly suitable to generate abstract mathematical models that help your government reduce its budget deficit, if you don’t trust the society you live in, it will prohibit you from using those skills in a high-status job for some government department. After all, a high level bureaucrat doesn’t want people working under him who think he drinks the blood of orphans to stay young, it makes the office parties rather awkward.
And so what we call “right wing extremists” in today’s society, just tend to be people who feel alienated from the society they inhabit. They are people who fundamentally distrust their governments, along with other institutions of power. As a result, they have a low socio-economic status. In the past, the left sought to represent the interests of people with a low socio-economic status. Today, the left tends to vilify those people, because they prove to be disloyal once the left gains power.
And so, what happens is that those people end up pathologically inverting whatever they think of as left wing. Right wingers were generally indifferent to masks, until it turned into a virtue signaling symbol. Similarly, the right wing has a natural habit of imagining climate change to be some sort of hoax, because of this tribal animosity.
The arguments will vary from day to day, some will insist the temperature record must be a product of the urban heating effect, others will insist volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans, yet others will insist it hasn’t warmed since 1998, yet others will insist we’re causing global warming but it’s actually good. The only thing they really have in common is not some consistent scientific argument. Rather, what they have in common is a shared hostility towards the other tribe.
And yet, at the end of the day, you’re just dealing with simple physical processes that we can all observe and measure given the right tools. It doesn’t require some ideology, to recognize we’re pouring carbon into our atmosphere faster than natural processes can remove it again for us. Your value orientation will affect how you think we should react to processes that unfold in our society, but a difference in values doesn’t allow you to escape the reality of the crisis we face.
There’s a general observation made by many that the solutions proposed to climate change now begin to resemble the kind of technocratic authoritarianism that we saw with COVID. However, the people making this observation fail to recognize that they themselves play a large role in having caused this outcome. If you leave high status authoritarian personality types on the left to intellectually monopolize a global ecological crisis, they’re free to come up with the sort of solutions that naturally appeal to them, but don’t appeal to you.
Consider instead, that we had roughly 30 years to see the emergence of a solution compatible with small government principles and individual liberty. We’ve had thirty years of international conferences on this problem, it should have been clear that you can’t just get away forever with pretending the problem isn’t going to be real.
You could have had a solution that avoids infringing upon individual liberty, by taxing the fossil fuel companies for polluting the commons. They pollute something we all equally own together (the atmosphere), so they should be paying us all compensation. That did not happen, rich elites tied to the fossil fuel industry embarked instead on encouraging you to deny the whole crisis altogether, which ended up massively benefiting them, while you’re now left with the result: You are now at high risk of ending up with some sort of centrally planned technocratic authoritarianism, outside of any sort of democratic oversight.
For decades there have been Republican politicians who recognized the problem is real, who wanted to help come up with a solution to it. However, the outcome was always the same: They faced an outburst of anger from their electorate and rapidly returned to pretending the problem isn’t real, or lost their reelection. And so if that’s the road you choose, as the problem steadily gets worse and the time to act is lost, then you shouldn’t be shocked when it becomes clear that people start working around you.