Tuesday, December 30, 2008


It's so very frustrating when any issue becomes polarized. The very term evokes the thought of a magnet, which has a north and a south, and there's not much more that you can say about it save its strength. But politics, economics, society and civilization aren't so much about solving the dilemmas that face the world, because that word also is too restrictive, taking its etymology from di, meaning two, and lemma, meaning premise. The problems of the world are generally more subtle and intricate multilemmas. It's not always a matter of north and south, of left and right, republican and democrat, yin and yang; it's almost always more nuanced. Much more on that later, but as an example, let's take environmentalism.

Environmentalism is an issue that has become horribly polarized. On the one side are the liberals, the democrats, the advocates of an expansive and powerful centralized government. Among them you will find those who truly and deeply care about the environment. Also, you will find those who will reap the benefits of the power and control to be garnered by exploiting environmentalism. It's difficult to distinguish the two, as the polarization has lumped them all together. On the other side, you find conservatives, republicans, and advocates for large, primarily manufacturing-based indistries. Among them you will find those who care deeply about human and economic freedom. Also, you will find industry shills, intent on reaping the monetary benefits that can be maximized by disregard for the environment (note here that disregard does not imply wanton destruction. It simply means that destruction does not incur costs, and therefore can be considered if there are benefits to be had from it). Once again, the two are difficult to distinguish.

There should be cooperation between the more honorable of both sides. True conservatives should be environmentalists. First off, I've never met a conservative (and few human beings) who didn't respect and love the Great Outdoors. There is something so inherently moving about a mountain sunset that it takes a strange person not to appreciate the beauty of it, even if they don't want to go camping. But the true conservative should be allied with the true environmentalist and against both the advocates of big government and big business. The true conservative should fight for environmentalism in the context of property rights. Property rights have historically been defended to a large extent by tort law, and in some cases it's easy to apply to environmental concerns. (Not being a lawyer, I come at this with an amature's perspective. Some of my explanations may stray from actual legal reality into the realm of what law should be.) If an entity damages its own property, then it has diminished its own holdings which, while probably foolish, should not be tortious. If that entity is a joint stock company, then there may be reason for the holders of that stock to take issue with the diminished value of the property that they have equity in, or perhaps not. However, when an entity damages the property belonging to someone else, then they have interfered with that other person's property rights, and should be held liable for that damage. If an entity dumps waste into a river, then it damages the property owned by those downstream. Those people form a class damaged by either an intentional or negligent tort. That seems to me a reasonably simple case of civil liability. I'm also reasonably sure that most legal systems make things much more complex. And even that case is simple. A river is a reasonably well defined thing, and most of the wastes that can be put in it have some hope of being quantifiably damaging. But what happens if you have a larger class? If you release persistent and harmful gasses into the atmosphere, you may be doing damage to the class of people who breathe. The class of people who own property which is covered by the Earth's atmosphere. If you do a dollar's worth of damage to that class, you find yourself liable for $6 Billion. What jury could decide that case? Who would they pay it to? To my mind, it stretches the limits of tort law. It is one of the few areas where it may be right for a centralized government to act. But the important consideration is that the government should only act if it is provable that the damages done are universal.

And that brings us to the second particularly important and difficult consideration, and that is the quantification of damage. At best, quantification of damage on a global scale is difficult. At worst, we find global warming. As wide as the rift may be between law and science, we find an even larger chasm between the world of science and the politics of global climate change. And that is because the politics of global climate change have transcended science and have become religion. The parallels are fascinating. On the one hand, we have the various sects and denominations with their varying but unwavering faith in global warming, varying degrees of faith that such climate change is man-made, and various beliefs in what the results will be. There may have even been a protestant reformation when those who believed in global cooling fell out of favor. Fortunately, the term "global climate change" is still inclusive of them, much as Catholics are still considered Christian. Then there are the environmental athiests, with a firm and unwavering faith that man is not changing the climate of the Earth. Some believe that it isn't changing, while others believe it is changing, but not by the hand of man. There are even environmental satanists. In religion, I've generally observed that Satanists are those who firmly believe in the existence of the Catholic god, but are rooting for the other team. These would be the industry shills who may privately believe that man-made climate change exists, but who don't care in the face of immediate profits.

And then there's me, the environmental agnostic. Much as the religiously agnostic are often misunderstood by both the devoutly religious and the staunchly atheist, we environmental agnostics are misunderstood by both poles who view us as probably belonging to the other side. I do have faith. I have strong and unwavering faith that, on this issue, there is far too much money to be had on the one hand and power to be had on the other for there to be any chance of objective truth being distinguishable from a clever fiction. I do not believe in man-made global warming. Nor do I believe that it is false. I strongly believe that I do not know the truth, and moreover I believe that at this time I cannot know the truth. It's a frustrating position to be in, but there is a good fight to be fought here. On the one hand, it's a fight against any who object to attempts to quantify what may be happening. On the other hand, it's a fight against those who propose to expand their own power in order to fight this problem, while not being able to show how the power that they take would actually be a benefit should the problem prove to be real. It's a difficult position to take, but I invite all of you from all across the various political spectra to join me in fighting this good fight. Our reward should we win will be meaningful solutions to problems that have objective proof of existence. That reward is welcome in any field of human endeavor.

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