I sometimes observe that the initial knee jerk reaction by some environmentalists to attacks on the climate change science is to favor an ad hominem approach. Find out if some fossil fuel industry is funding the attacker and expose them. Often I have found such a strategy unsatisfying. Not simply because it better to evaluate arguments on the merits of what science actually does say (which does take more time but one can learn a great deal in the process), but because in the event that one fails to uncover any financial links to an “evil” oil company, does this somehow lend greater weight to the argument of the attacker? Are scientists who have not sold their soul to any oil, gas, coal, or automotive company, really that much more trustworthy as commentators on scientific issues?
In a lecture titled, “The American Denial of Global Warming”, Professor of History, Naomi Oreskes, reveals to one of the root causes motivating many of the attacks on climate science. And surprise, surprise. It is not Exxon.
As it turns out, it is the unwavering ideological belief that free markets, unhindered by government regulation, can solve all problems that is subverting the public dissemination of science. While the laissez faire market ideal is quite popular amongst the rightwing republican conservatives, where it is really held up as gospel truth is amongst the libertarians. This is consistent with what I’ve often observed on libertarian websites and blogs where the pro-capitalism arguments of Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and Julian Simon are quite popular. Where the Austrian School of Economic theory rules the land, and Keynesianism is the devil at which stones are to be thrown. I recently stopped listening to a libertarian podcast that specialised in anti-Keynesian attacks, supported Ron Paul and questioned the certainty of global warming. Curiously, the publishers of this podcast, Financial Sense, do believe in peak oil theory, but not as an argument for sustainability and environmentalism, but instead as a means by which Keynesianism will ultimately fail.
Incidentally, Ron Paul frames environmental concerns as a pollution problem that can be solved by strenthening private property rights. It’s a pity he doesn’t have much chance at becoming US president as I am loooking forward to finding out how global warming emissions could be dealt with in this way, given the fact that most environmental damage is indirect and non-local in nature (melting icecaps flood tropical areas, storms form over warmer water far from where they make landfall, etc). Perhaps this explains why he’s popular among technologists — some believe free market driven technological development is the best way to solve the global warming problem.
Ray Kurzweil: None of the global warming discussions mention the word “nanotechnology.” Yet nanotechnology will eliminate the need for fossil fuels within 20 years. If we captured 1% of 1% of the sunlight (1 part in 10,000) we could meet 100% of our energy needs without ANY fossil fuels.
At least this shows that some pro-technology libertarians have begun the process of resolving this internal conflict: denying science, while at the same time, hyping technology that is often based on the same science — a line of reasoning which I’ve seen far too often on technology blogs and news sites. It is not surprising that this conflict is at the heart of the George C. Marshall Institute, the think-tank that Oreskes investigated; it was originally formed to promote Star Wars technology but attacked the physics needed to make it work.