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Why Does PowerLine Dismiss Climate Change?

March 6, 2012

It is pretty obvious that our fossil fuel use has significantly increased the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere – current CO2 levels are just over 390 ppm compared to about 270 ppm in pre-industrial times. It’s also clear that CO2 is a greenhouse gas which – if atmospheric concentrations increase enough – could increase the overall temperature of the planet significantly. It’s also widely accepted that if temperatures increase enough, the results could be catastrophic.

There is still much debate over how high CO2 levels will need to be in order to create catastrophic consequences. But there seems to be broad consensus that unless we change our habits, the odds are uncomfortably high we could get there sometime this century.

Given these facts, it’s puzzling why so many conservatives – including the writers at Power Line – are so hostile to the entire concept of Climate Change. Even Reason magazine felt compelled to write on the subject. They point out that conservatives are usually the ones that listen to science and they give several past examples where this was true. What is it about Climate Change that causes them to abandon their previous reliance on science?

Matt Bruenig and George Bonbiot have the best theory I’ve heard so far.

Bruenig explains what is now the core argument used by conservatives and libertarians: the procedural justice account of property rights. In brief, this means that if the process by which property was acquired was just, those who have acquired it should be free to use it as they wish, without social restraints or obligations to other people.

Their property rights are absolute and cannot be intruded upon by the state or by anyone else. Any interference with, or damage to, the value of their property without their consent – even by taxation – is an unwarranted infringement. This, with local variations, is the basic philosophy of the Republican candidates, the Tea Party movement, the lobby groups that call themselves “free market thinktanks” and much of the new right in the UK.

We can add Power Line to that list.

But, for the sake of argument, Bruenig says, let us accept it. Let us accept the idea that damage to the value of property without the owner’s consent is an unwarranted intrusion upon the owner’s freedoms. What this means is that as soon as libertarians encounter environmental issues, they’re stuffed.

Climate change, industrial pollution, ozone depletion, damage to the physical beauty of the area surrounding people’s homes (and therefore their value) – all these, if libertarians did not possess a shocking set of double standards, would be denounced by them as infringements on other people’s property.

So here we have a simple and coherent explanation of why libertarianism is so often associated with climate change denial, and the playing down or dismissal of other environmental issues. It would be impossible for the owner of a power station, steel plant, quarry, farm or any large enterprise to obtain consent for all the trespasses he commits against other people’s property – including their bodies.

This is the point at which libertarianism smacks into the wall of gritty reality and crumples like a Coke can. Any honest and thorough application of this philosophy would run counter to its aim: which is to allow the owners of capital to expand their interests without taxation, regulation or recognition of the rights of other people.

Libertarianism becomes self-defeating as soon as it recognises the existence of environmental issues. So they must be denied.

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From → Climate, Politics

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