09 Dec 2009

"Global Warming Is the Left’s ‘War on Terror’"

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So said Jeff Tucker when I told him about my decision to take a job where I would focus on the economics of climate change. What Jeff meant, of course, was that global warming (aka climate change) provided a justification not just for specific tax and spending measures, but could be applied for virtually any new government intervention one wanted. Just as the threat of terrorists allowed the government to take over airport security, impose tighter regulations on cash deposits at banks, and gain greater discretion in spying on Americans (and oh yeah, invade two countries), so too does the threat of climate change allow the government to impose tariffs in violation of standard treaties, tell you what light bulbs you’re allowed to use, and (as some academics have suggested) restrict how many children you can have.

Tom Friedman has written an op ed making the rounds titled, “Going Cheney on Climate.” Friedman proves just how prescient Jeff’s comment was:

In 2006, Ron Suskind published “The One Percent Doctrine,” a book about the U.S. war on terrorists after 9/11. The title was drawn from an assessment by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, who, in the face of concerns that a Pakistani scientist was offering nuclear-weapons expertise to Al Qaeda, reportedly declared: “If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.” Cheney contended that the U.S. had to confront a very new type of threat: a “low-probability, high-impact event.”

Soon after Suskind’s book came out, the legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who then was at the University of Chicago, pointed out that Mr. Cheney seemed to be endorsing the same “precautionary principle” that also animated environmentalists. Sunstein wrote in his blog: “According to the Precautionary Principle, it is appropriate to respond aggressively to low-probability, high-impact events — such as climate change. Indeed, another vice president — Al Gore — can be understood to be arguing for a precautionary principle for climate change (though he believes that the chance of disaster is well over 1 percent).”

Friedman is at least consistent–he was almost a caricature of a hawk on terrorism (serving as Glenn Greenwald’s whipping boy), and he is also one of the leading media voices for action to restrict emissions.

But what of the standard liberal and conservative? Doesn’t the liberal recognize that the same non-falsifiable rhetoric* is being used in the War on Carbon as the Bush Team used for their wars? And how can the standard (neo)conservative object to the claimed necessity for urgent action? After all, the conservatives are defending the Iraq invasion even after the alleged threat was shown to be false! At least it’s still possible that the climate alarmists are correct.

* Note that I said the rhetoric is non-falsifiable, not the science.

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