Daniel J. Mitchell makes a surprising, yet illuminating statement in the following headline:
The Radical Environmental Agenda Should Be Rejected, Even If Global Warming Is Real
Mitchell's article is about the use of cost-benefit analysis to determine when "enough is enough." Environmentalists almost unanimously reject that approach. They tend toward the "one molecule is too many" standard for environmental cleanliness, wherein a single disfavored particle in the air, water, or soil constitutes an obligation to remediate, regardless of the costs or benefits.
It's lunacy, of course, but on no subject no more so than on "global warming."
Imagine, for example, that it were objectively verifiable that present trends continuing, the mean surface temperature of the Earth would rise one Centigrade degree (1.8 Fahrenheit degrees) by 2100 A.D. Has anyone asked the following questions?
- What would the actual consequences be? Is it possible to determine them beyond a reasonable doubt?
- Might the extra ambient energy be a good thing rather than a bad one -- particularly for Mankind?
- If we stipulate for argument's sake that the temperature increase would be a bad thing for Mankind, just how bad would it be? Would it be less costly and disruptive to adapt to it than to attempt to prevent it?
- Assuming adaptation to be "off the table" for unspecified reasons, just how bad would the impact on Mankind be? Would it be worse than having to turn on the air conditioner two weeks earlier each year? How would we know?
- What additional resources might Man in 2100 have with which to cope with the rise in temperature?
Note that my focus in the above is the effect on Mankind. That is the only standard by which to judge the impact of an environmental change, whether it's as subtle as a one-degree turn in the jet streams or as dramatic as an asteroid strike. Any standard that demotes the well-being of humans below some other consideration is inadmissible for moral reasons.
Environmentalists refuse to accept that. Not even the ones who don't secretly worship moss, rocks, and dirt. It pulls their fangs, leaves them with no avenue of advance.
The key question, of course, is why.
Quite a number of "environmentalists" are nothing of the sort. Their true aim is, as Mitchell notes, the elimination of the free market: capitalism. It offends them for reasons that vary from one to the next. In some cases, the reason is that capitalism promotes individualism and political freedom.
One way to separate those unreformables from the rest is to use Michael Cloud's "Isolating The Issue" approach:
"Suppose I could demonstrate to you, by use of objective evidence, that your belief that capitalism is bad for the environment is incorrect -- that in fact it's better for the environment than any other economic system. Would that persuade you to re-evaluate your position?"
If the environmentalist's answer is a sincere yes, he's reachable by evidence and reasoning; there's a reason for the conversation to continue. But if his answer is no, or if he waffles by attempting to change the reason he opposes capitalism, his agenda isn't improving the environment; it's the destruction of capitalism. He regards all other considerations as means to that end.
You cannot reach such a person by rational argument.
The multiply attributed saying that "You cannot reason someone out of a position he did not reason himself into" is one of the most significant insights in political discourse. It's especially pertinent to discussions of environmental concerns. Many an environmentalist is reachable by reason, but many others are not. Indeed, the attempt to do so has purely negative consequences.
Coincidentally, today Doug Ross cites an unusually useful list: 25 ways to avert arguments unfavorable to the Left. You will most frequently see the following ones as responses from unreformables to reasoned argument against environmental radicalism:
2. Become incredulous and indignant. Avoid discussing key issues and instead focus on side issues which can be used show the topic as being critical of some otherwise sacrosanct group or theme. This is also known as the 'How dare you!' gambit.
4. Use a straw man. Find or create a seeming element of your opponent's argument which you can easily knock down to make yourself look good and the opponent to look bad. Either make up an issue you may safely imply exists based on your interpretation of the opponent/opponent arguments/situation, or select the weakest aspect of the weakest charges. Amplify their significance and destroy them in a way which appears to debunk all the charges, real and fabricated alike, while actually avoiding discussion of the real issues.
5. Sidetrack opponents with name calling and ridicule. This is also known as the primary 'attack the messenger' ploy, though other methods qualify as variants of that approach. Associate opponents with unpopular titles such as 'kooks', 'right-wing', 'liberal', 'left-wing', 'terrorists', 'conspiracy buffs', 'radicals', 'militia', 'racists', 'religious fanatics', 'sexual deviates', and so forth. This makes others shrink from support out of fear of gaining the same label, and you avoid dealing with issues.
7. Question motives. Twist or amplify any fact which could be taken to imply that the opponent operates out of a hidden personal agenda or other bias. This avoids discussing issues and forces the accuser on the defensive.
8. Invoke authority. Claim for yourself or associate yourself with authority and present your argument with enough 'jargon' and 'minutia' to illustrate you are 'one who knows', and simply say it isn't so without discussing issues or demonstrating concretely why or citing sources.
18. Emotionalize, Antagonize, and Goad Opponents. If you can't do anything else, chide and taunt your opponents and draw them into emotional responses which will tend to make them look foolish and overly motivated, and generally render their material somewhat less coherent. Not only will you avoid discussing the issues in the first instance, but even if their emotional response addresses the issue, you can further avoid the issues by then focusing on how 'sensitive they are to criticism.'
19. Ignore proof presented, demand impossible proofs. This is perhaps a variant of the 'play dumb' rule. Regardless of what material may be presented by an opponent in public forums, claim the material irrelevant and demand proof that is impossible for the opponent to come by (it may exist, but not be at his disposal, or it may be something which is known to be safely destroyed or withheld, such as a murder weapon.) In order to completely avoid discussing issues, it may be required that you to categorically deny and be critical of media or books as valid sources, deny that witnesses are acceptable, or even deny that statements made by government or other authorities have any meaning or relevance.
24. Silence critics. If the above methods do not prevail, consider removing opponents from circulation by some definitive solution so that the need to address issues is removed entirely. This can be by their death, arrest and detention, blackmail or destruction of their character by release of blackmail information, or merely by destroying them financially, emotionally, or severely damaging their health.
Note how often #24 appears in contemporary political interplay. Environmentalist unreformables have used it more often than most others.
Inasmuch as the above responses to your rational analysis indicate clearly that your approach has achieved nothing, at the very best you've just wasted your time and energy. You might also have evoked a destructive response aimed at you personally as "an enemy of the cause." That suggests that your first duty when entering the fray is to determine whether your opponent is persuadable at all, by the "Isolating The Issue" technique or otherwise.
When the specific subject is "global warming / climate change / climate disruption," the stakes are at their highest, for this chimera is being used as a reason to impose totalitarian control, by a world government, over every last one of Man's activities. He who actively desires such an outcome, rather than deploring it as an unfortunate survival necessity, imagines himself as one of its commissars. You could no more persuade him out of his thesis than you could stop the rotation of the Earth.
Here are the strongest rational arguments against the "global warming" chimera. Use them if and only if you have first established that your opponent is potentially persuadable. If he isn't, walk away, swiftly and without regret. His convictions constitute a faith -- a religion -- and there's no point arguing religion with a "true believer."