Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fascincating Debate On Climate Change

Bill McKibben writing in The New Republic tries to make the case that conservatism should be on the side of fighting climate change:
Conservatism has always stressed stability and continuity; since Burke, the watchwords have been tradition, authority, heritage. The globally averaged temperature of the planet has been 57 degrees, give or take, for most of human history; we know that works, that it allows the world we have enjoyed. Now, the finest minds, using the finest equipment, tell us that it’s headed toward 61 or 62 or 63 degrees unless we rapidly leave fossil fuel behind, and that, in the words of NASA scientists, this new world won’t be “similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.” Conservatives should be leading the desperate fight to preserve the earth we were born on.

He then blames the deification of the market:
If Arctic ice disappears, no young John Galt is going to remake it in his garage. The essential question is: Is the environment a subset of the economy, or is it the other way around? Or, more combatively, you really think you can out-argue physics? Hayek’s good, but atmospheric chemistry is a tough opponent.

Jim Manzi then replies:
This is the crux of problem with McKibben’s argument: According to the IPCC, the expected economic costs of global warming are about 3 percent of GDP more than 100 years from now. This is pretty far from the rhetoric of global devastation that McKibben, and so many others, use.

What intrigues FLG here is that his time horizons theory as well as the separation of facts and values come to the fore. FLG doesn't have time to spell it all out, but he will boil it down.

McKibben sees a fact, the Earth is warming, and then immediately applies a set of values, including valuing the present, to arrive at a conclusion -- we need to stop it and so do conservatives.

Jim Manzi goes so far as to grant the facts, generally speaking, and but then, and this is where his conservatism arises, questions how the facts are meaningful to people. Yes, the Earth is warming, but by all accounts trying to fight it would make humans worse off than letting it go and adapting. It's not the Earth that matters, but how it will affect its inhabitants.

The thing is that McKibeen doesn't seem to realize he is applying values. The tone of his article is dripping with the assumption that rational people, presented with the facts, can arrive at no other conclusion than the one he has. As if he wasn't applying any values whatsoever to the facts.

Put simply -- Hayek isn't fighting atmospheric chemistry. Atmospheric chemistry, as a science, is the pursuit of knowledge of what is, not what ought. It makes no prescriptions. The transition to ought involves something beyond atmospheric chemistry -- normative assumptions -- which have no place in science. If McKibeen cannot see that, then he's not a very pensive person.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Uh Oh. dave.s.

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