Government or the People II: A Free Market Skeptic, Jamming, 05/02/2015

Continued from last post . . . James Lovelock confirmed what many conservatives, especially the more pure libertarian or neoliberal perspectives, actually believe about environmentalism: that it is a movement to undermine democracy through increasing state controls over the economy. Lovelock openly advocated for democracy to be put on hold, that the time for deliberation and possibly even general transparency in governance of environmental issues was over.

Environmentalism is one of the definitive activist
movements of our time.
The libertarian suspicion of environmentalist politics is rooted, like most libertarian suspicions, in the rightfully deserved fear of state power. It’s rooted in Friedrich Hayek’s distrust of the state to change the framework of society. When the state enacts plans to change society radically, it does so through the coercive force of arms. That’s because it does so in a hurry.

The libertarian suspicion of the left lies in the belief that all leftists want to transform society as fast as physically possible. And there’s a sense of urgency in a lot of environmentalist writing that suggests, in this case, its truth. There is pressure, when dealing with climate change, to make changes to laws now, and seriously restrict industrial activity. There is a palpable conviction that it may already be too late.

Hell, there’s a general feeling that it’s already too late to stop the most catastrophic climate change. We’re already experiencing the extreme weather that comes from higher average global temperatures. The atmosphere is more agitated than it used to be. California is experiencing such enormous and persistent droughts that the fruit and wine basket of the United States will probably be a desert in a couple of decades. 

Here in Canada, where I live, last winter’s extreme weather events were affects of a literal polar hurricane. If you saw the footage coming out of Iqaluit, they were basically in hurricane conditions. For three weeks.

If these are the conditions that we live under now, then the key climate shifts to destabilize most of our ecosystems have already happened. Now it’s a matter of containing the damage or preventing it from growing even worse. The question is what method is best to achieve all this: government action or the market.

Now, I don’t actually have a problem with market-based solutions to stopping climate change or, just as importantly, removing the incentives for people to destroy ecosystems that aren’t yet dominated by humans. In the abstract, I think the solutions that I’ve seen proffered in libertarian-dominated circles can work. The problem is, they can’t work in our context.

Our society is dominated by too much skepticism about science and the real impact of humans on our ecosystems. It’s no problem getting people to believe that we can explore space and build massive projects on Earth. But messages about humanity’s inability to affect the climate have spread too far, and been too widely accepted for a free market to generate solutions to our ecological destruction. The only way for that to happen now is through a correction: a catastrophe in which everyone who has been behaving counter-productively fails. The problem is that this class now contains almost every human alive. 

The cause of this mass skepticism about humans being involved in climate change has two sources. One is the most obvious: rich businesspeople who form and contribute to think tanks whose operative model is all about influencing governments to shrink from interference in the economy and make safe space for large corporations, particularly large natural resource corporations, to work without restraint.

The English city of Bradford in the Victorian era,
just a little smoky.
The less obvious reason is actually a more fundamental reason in human thought. We’ve only had the technological power to alter large-scale biospheric processes for a few generations. To the Victorian era at most, when we first started burning fossil fuels at national industrial levels. For most of humanity’s history, we’ve been powerless before nature, and these kinds of cognitive and cultural habits are so deeply engrained that changing our thinking is immensely difficult. Only after the largest mistakes do we clean up our acts. And sometimes, not even then.

Libertarianism today is a creature of the right wing, which makes many contemporary libertarians fall for the corporate lies that climate change is either not real or has nothing to do with human activity. They fall for the contention that the best way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop all discrimination on the basis of race, and treat everyone as nominally equal when they remain materially disadvantaged.

Most importantly, they fall for the lie that all market forces will tend toward virtue and progress. Libertarianism is right, as was Hayek himself, to suspect the power of the state in our lives. But as a political movement today, it fails to understand the corrupting power and danger of oligarchy, when a single person or family becomes rich enough to gain the practical power of a small state. To be continued . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment