Be worried! Be very worried! (Or else!)

Glenn Reynolds linked a New York Times piece which tells me that scientists have now stopped worrying about something I had never bothered to worry about:

Mainstream climatologists who have feared that global warming could have the paradoxical effect of cooling northwestern Europe or even plunging it into a small ice age have stopped worrying about that particular disaster, although it retains a vivid hold on the public imagination.
There's a lot more, of course, but the fear of an imminent Atlantic conveyor belt breakdown (which I do remember) seems (so they now say in the NYT) to have been wrong:
"The concern had previously been that we were close to a threshold where the Atlantic circulation system would stop," said Susan Solomon, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "We now believe we are much farther from that threshold, thanks to improved modeling and ocean measurements. The Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Current are more stable than previously thought."
One of the things which most bothers me about politics is that there are a lot of self appointed thought police running around, who make it their job to prevent people from simply being allowed to think what they think. If you show even a hint of independent thinking (to give just one example, suppose you support gay rights and gun rights at the same time), activists who believe in laundry-list political alignments will come down on you, and alternately attempt to either tar you as a liberal or a conservative, or admonish you for not living up to their view of what it means to be one thing or another.

Why can't I just be allowed to think what I think? has been one of my pet peeves over the years, and it was -- and remains -- a primary reason for blogging.

The debate over anthropogenic global warming adds a new twist to this, because it ratchets this phenomenon up by supplying the self appointed thought police with what they regard as new turf. Their jurisdiction extends well beyond mere opinions about anthropogenic global warming, and into the delicate area of whether one is sufficiently worried!

Thus, it's not enough to acknowledge that the planet might be warming, or even that there is anthropogenic global warming. While it's true that denial of anthropogenic global warming remains a consummate sin (which has been likened to Holocaust Denial), insufficient worry is seen as deliberate complacency -- a more insidious evil.

If you think about it, to a true believer (and self appointed scold), the attitude of "Yeah, so the planet is warming! I just wanna live my life and be left alone!" can be seen as worse than denial. That's because it's tantamount to outright advocacy of an immoral lifestyle. If we compare the dynamics of this newly manufactured morality system with the dynamics of the old one, it's like the people who acknowledged that, yes, Bill Clinton behaved in an immoral manner with Monica Lewinsky, but they really didn't care.

To not care in the face of immorality is wicked! Wicked! And the wicked will burn in the lower circles of hell! (Well, in this case, not with Bill Clinton, but with Inhofe, Cheney and Bush.)

To the enforcers of worry, the details of what we should worry can be changed to fit the dominant worry theme. In this case, anthropogenic global warming is the greater worry, and if the breakdown in the conveyor belt doesn't cause the predicted cooling in the manner predicted, well, no problem! The predictions can be revised at any time, and new facts can be made to fit. The main thing is that the morality based worry is still there.

Leading Rapturist Hal Lindsey is a good example in the religious field. His predictions of how the Rapture will happen are revised as current events change, but the bottom line is that the people who want to worry must be kept supplied with fuel for their worries:

Via Pajamas Media, Dean Esmay explores a related version of the scam involving religious huckster Hal Lindsey, who's been rewriting and re-spinning his Apocalyptic interpretations almost too many times to count. As Dean says, the man has no shame. But since when did shame have anything to do with offering people the emotional satisfaction that they crave? I think it takes great talent to get people to keep coming back and lining up for more even after your original hoax has been discredited. Having shame would only get in the way.

Lindsey reminds me of the people who claim that they are going to get socialism right this time. Interestingly enough, both groups share a common need to elevate emotional satisfaction above reason. Whether the leaders truly believe what they say or are shameless demagogues is tough to pin down in every case. The bottom line is that if enough people want something, someone will offer it.

Forgive my cynicism, but just as I don't want to worry about getting the Rapture right this time, or getting socialism right this time, so I don't want to worry about getting anthropogenic global warming theory right this time. I'm more worried about the people who want me to worry than I am about their latest revised theories.

However, people who refuse to worry and who manifest that lack of worry by persisting in patterns seen as violative of the new morality may be in for a rude awakening. Even driving down the street can be seen as a crime against the environment deserving of punishment -- as happened in Berkeley a few days ago to an elderly man. Here's the video report (link here):

(HT Justin.)

Remarkably, even the activists' own video shows them shoving the bikes under the van.

Not that attacking immoral vehicles is anything new. In San Francisco last month, small children were given a similar lesson in "conspicuous virtue".

I'll say this for the Rapturists. They might be into conspicuous virtue, but so far it doesn't seem to extend to attacks on people for driving down the street.

posted by Eric on 05.15.07 at 10:35 AM










Comments

I agree that the moralistic approach to these problems is all wrong, because everybody has different sets of morals. I would much rather see the calculated costs of global warming built into the price mechanism, so that everybody can make their own decision about how much CO2 they want to release. We need a carbon tax applied to all significant human releases of carbon. The obvious problem with such a tax is determining the present value of future global warming. This kind of calculation is done all the time in business, despite lots of uncertainties, and I think we should start making some estimates in that direction. Sure, those estimates will be gross approximations, but right now we are using the estimate that the present value of the future costs of global warming is $0.00. That estimate is obviously way off the mark. So let's come up with some better estimates. A good starting place would be about $35/ton, as this is the value that various carbon trading schemes are coming to. However, that's based on technological capability rather than present value. We'll need to continually refine and adjust the tax, but there's no question in my mind that such a tax would be a good starting point.

Froblyx   ·  May 15, 2007 11:35 AM

Are you even trying, Froblyx?

I agree that the moralistic approach to these problems is all wrong, because everybody has different sets of morals. I would much rather see the calculated costs of [GLOBAL WARMING!!!] built into the price mechanism, so that everybody can make their own decision about how much CO2 they want to release. [some emphasis added]

You're going to make the decision that GLOBAL WARMING!!! is A) our fault and B) bad for us and C) that we can't keep adding to GLOBAL WARMING!!!, so we need to restructure the entire world's economy (as if we could) to punish behavior that adds to GLOBAL WARMING!!! and reward behavior that does not add to GLOBAL WARMING!!!.

Economics does not respond to command. It just doesn't work. The solutions to GLOBAL WARMING!!! cannot have any other end than world government empowered to ration, and thus direct, production of anything that affects the environment, which is to say, everything. That may be a socialist's idea of utopia, but it would be the worst kind of tyranny, as there would be no escape.

Socrates   ·  May 15, 2007 12:23 PM

"You're going to make the decision that GLOBAL WARMING!!! is A) our fault and B) bad for us and C) that we can't keep adding to GLOBAL WARMING!!!, "

Actually, I did not make that decision; the scientific bodies entrusted with making this decision have rendered their decision and they have concluded the anthropogenic global warming is real and that it poses a significant threat to humanity. They have not, however, recommended any policy options (although they have discussed the implications of various policy options).

"so we need to restructure the entire world's economy (as if we could)"

This is fantasy; my comment recommended a tax on carbon. Inasmuch as there is no international mechanism for levying such a tax, the notion is absurd. My recommendation is for a domestic tax.

"Economics does not respond to command."

Indeed it does not -- which is precisely why I propose a tax, which relies on the price mechanism.

"The solutions to GLOBAL WARMING!!! cannot have any other end than world government empowered to ration, and thus direct, production of anything that affects the environment,"

This is wild-eyed nonsense. The mechanism for addressing carbon emissions globally is a concept that's been around for a long time: international treaties. And international treaties affecting domestic economic policy are very common and work quite well.

Froblyx   ·  May 15, 2007 1:48 PM

Eric:
If you knew this already, I apologize, but Hal Lindsay invested the cash he made on his books (which was a lot, "The Late, Great Planet Earth," selling tens of millions of copies) on long term real estate ventures:
http://www.fwponline.cc/v9n1reasoner.html

Socrates:
I don't think you are being at all fair. Negative externality taxes force the consumer to face the difference between the cost of production to the producer and the cost of production to society. They are a libertarian solution to pollution; unless you posit that pollution of the public domain (such as air in the simplest and least controversial example) doesn't exist, doesn't matter, or should be ignored, these taxes are the most effective manner of dealing with the problem.

The international nature of this issue might be a problem, but I think Froblyx is right; just look to the international laws we have on fishing to see how commonsense policy can be ironed out, and, remarkably, enforced between nations (in the Pacific, anyway...).

I'll be the first to admit that many, many environmentalists are also socialists (watermelons) who just use environmental problems to propose government control. But, that doesn't mean environmental problems don't exist.

Jon Thompson   ·  May 15, 2007 3:14 PM

BTW, this article puts the lie to the paranoid claims that scientists are just making all this up so that they can stampede governments into granting them more funds. Here are some scientists saying that no, a problem we thought might exist turns out to be not a problem.

Froblyx   ·  May 15, 2007 3:58 PM

Yes, I appear to be guilty of reading too much into your comment. I thought you were talking about a worldwide solution to the non-problem of global warming, but instead you are talking about a unilateral non-solution to the non-problem.

That's right: it is not clear that global warming is caused by Man. It is not even clear that CO2 is the cause of global warming, because excess CO2 very well may be caused by globally higher temperatures, caused by solar activity.

So you want to tax American production of CO2, and convince other countries to do the same, through the use of whatever leverage we have. Leadership, maybe. We can't even convince people to keep Iran from getting nuclear bombs.

And all so we can keep the world cold? Want to try convincing people in Russia not to burn coal, so we can keep those nice winters?

I don't like it cold, and I suspect the average Muscovite would like his summers a couple of degrees warmer, too.

Bah.

Socrates   ·  May 15, 2007 4:08 PM

Semi-OT: Froblyx, thanks for the link to Saturday's discussion. I missed that essay (don't internet much on weekends) and it was some good reading. Now I can't find where you posted the link, but you posted it somewhere.

tim maguire   ·  May 15, 2007 4:14 PM

Frob,

How much will it cost us to offset China's CO2 output? Or India's?

How much do we want to hurt the poor of the world?

The ban on DDT has killed 30 to 100 million. How many should die to prevent more CO2 emissions?

M. Simon   ·  May 15, 2007 5:04 PM

"That's right: it is not clear that global warming is caused by Man. It is not even clear that CO2 is the cause of global warming, because excess CO2 very well may be caused by globally higher temperatures, caused by solar activity."

It is clear to anybody who understands basic scientific principles.

"So you want to tax American production of CO2, and convince other countries to do the same, through the use of whatever leverage we have."

Yes, it's not the perfect solution. But it beats all heck out of doing nothing.

"And all so we can keep the world cold? ... I don't like it cold, and I suspect the average Muscovite would like his summers a couple of degrees warmer, too"

Sure, those cold northern winters will be warmer -- that will be one of the benefits of global warming. But there are also a lot of costs, such as reduced crop yields, droughts, damage to coastal facilities -- the very rough estimates people are coming up with at this time run into the tens (and possibly hundreds) of trillions of dollars. But, hey, if you have a few less snow days to shovel the sidewalk, who cares?

Tim Maguire: the discussion you ask about was here

Froblyx   ·  May 15, 2007 5:35 PM

It is clear to anybody who understands basic scientific principles.

Scientific principles such as falling for cum hoc ergo propter hoc?

If I shoot a gun in a room, and just then someone in the room dies, should I be executed without trial? Perhaps I should just be sentenced to a long stay in prison, because doing nothing is unacceptable.

What if reducing CO2 emissions doesn't cause the Sun to cool?

Socrates   ·  May 16, 2007 1:10 AM

" I'll say this for the Rapturists. They might be into conspicuous virtue, but so far it doesn't seem to extend to attacks on people for driving down the street. "

So... I take it that you are in disagreement with Glenn Reynolds????

flicka47   ·  May 16, 2007 5:30 AM

Froblyx--

Doing nothing is the correct policy.

Brett   ·  May 18, 2007 7:44 AM

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