The Precautionary Principle
A Warning About a New and Alien Political-Scientific Paradigm
by Hans Henrik Ramm
(Editor-in-chief, Norwegian Oil Review)
Virtually all statements by politicians participating at the Kyoto conference were systematically void of references to uncertainty. Any uninformed observer must have been given the impression that predictions of rapid global warming, extreme increases in sea levels, more stormy weather, floods and droughts and proliferation of deadly diseases, disruption of water and food supply etc., all were based on proven science.
So much collective lying is really sensational.
Because all of these politicians must have known better. Why couldn’t they tell the public the truth? Why couldn’t they say that there is a certain risk that such events may take place in the far end of the coming century, and that we have to accept lots of hardships today to guard against this future possibility, even though it could also very well be that the future will be much better than our times, also in this respect?
Why couldn’t they explicitly argue with the precautionary principle? Why must the reality behind this principle be reserved for more enlightened audiences than the general media public? Why must people at large be made believe that we do not face a certain risk, but a certainty?
Could it be that people are accustomed to risk and risk management, and therefore likely to ask for a convincing argument that the costs forced upon us really are worth it?
The 1995 IPCC report predicted a warming between 1ºC and 3,5ºC over 110 years. This was much more moderate than the previous 1990 and 1992 reports, predicting 1,5ºC to 4,5ºC over only 50 years. Counted as warming per year the alleged problem had actually been more than halved. The underlying documents also showed that uncertainties were larger than ever and that IPCC in spite of enormous efforts still had failed to identify the so-called human fingerprint on climate change.
But politicians, media and the public did not moderate their attitudes. To the contrary, the impression was left that proof was now stronger than ever, and that remedies must be found immediately to avoid apocalyptic consequences. What had happened?
Other forces than the scientists had now taken over the drivers’ seat. The issue had gained its own momentum. Media had scared the public, and lots of journalists, politicians and environmentalists had discovered that there was plenty of mileage in this fear. The more people could be scared, the more copy, more votes and more contributions. The world’s social leaders had canonised the issue into a moral commitment. Saving mankind and the planet from global warming had become a consensus belief with its own priesthood ready to stigmatise any heretic.
The most used method of stigmatising sceptics is to brand them as paid lobbyists for the oil and coal companies. Seldom has so much libel against serious scientists and other observers been let lose, and believed.
Although the US coal industry has been clear in its views, the irony is that the major part of the energy industry has been too scared to have an opinion at all. In most oil companies, the efforts have been directed to work for moderate remedies against global warming, not to challenge the issue as such.
In May, BP’s CEO John Browne made a speech where he even endorsed the global warming theory and said that remedies should be taken soon even without scientific proof, which meant that he implicitly also endorsed the so-called precautionary principle. Ostensibly, BP chose to do this because it was convinced about the science and had decided to become a responsible citizen. Assuming that BP has reasonable knowledge of how the scientific debate really has developed, this is in my opinion not very credible, but I shall leave the motives to anybody’s personal investigation.
I think it is time to investigate the general belief that energy companies are the main victims of policies against global warming. It is, of course, true that oil and coal companies are the main suppliers of fossil fuels. If the world really intended to reduce emissions radically in the short term, it is true that oil companies would lose a lot of business. But given enough time, companies are likely to develop and apply technology that will allow most of their activities to continue with reduced emissions.
Therefore, many companies have started large-scale R&D projects in order to make it possible to remove CO2 emissions from upstream facilities. This may buy enough time for dealing with the tougher issue of reducing emissions from combustion engines in cars and aeroplanes. Fuel cells with hydrogen from cracking of natural gas has been presented as a future main energy source for cars, but this will require a complete change of the whole downstream industry as well as new cars.
Each time politicians hear about this kind of R&D, they are encouraged to carry on their climate policies. Their economic advisors will tell them that capitalism and modern technology are capable of fulfilling any wish of the politicians, provided they are given ample incentives, such as high emission duties and strict quota regulations. They’ll always come up with something.
And, yes, that is probably true. The reason why so many of us believe in the power of technology and the free market is the amazing capability the market together with technology has of solving problems. In fact, this is the very reason why all former doomsday syndromes have been disproved by history. Technology and the market have lifted society to new levels where the alleged problems have become irrelevant, solved or disproved (like London drowning in horse manure, the Club of Rome’s resource depletion, the population bomb/food shortage scare etc.).
But in these cases, the changes have come naturally, directed by consumers’ demands and industry’s responses. By covering demands in the most efficient way possible, social and environmental costs have simultaneously been reduced. In fact, several studies show that the environment is cleanest in nations where economic growth and technology have reached he highest levels. Government regulations are of course necessary and desirable, also to define a level playing field, but they should be based on sound and mature science, rational cost/benefit and risk/reward considerations and a reasonable degree of co-operation with industry - like most countries have done before the climate issue.
But this is not what is happening now. Government action is premature and radical, and the driving force for industry is not the pursuit of profit obtained by covering consumers’ demand, but the avoidance of loss achieved by observing the rules of politicians and responding to pressure, even threats, from environmentalists. Tremendous financial and R&D forces are put into programs to develop, produce and install a product that is in no way demanded by the market, only by governments, namely CO2 put into vaults.
But, contrary to what happens when all that investment is made to provide new products demanded by consumers, nobody will be around to pay for the new product. One part of the cost will be covered by tax deductions (in many instances against special petroleum tax), another will be laid on the consumer through higher prices on petroleum products, in addition to fees and taxes likely to be imposed by government.
This collective purchase of separated CO2 will crowd out other items of welfare from both the public and the private sector. The oil companies will probably pay very little, in the end.
Similarly, the R&D part will crowd out other R&D, since the total resources are more or less limited at least in the short and medium long term. Already, enormous amounts of R&D financing have been diverted to this sector, especially in the US.
Therefore, under certain circumstances this may not be about hardship for the oil companies at all. Oil companies are flexible and have a long history of survival under various strange and radical government actions.
The problem really concerns all of us. It is the first time our governments get together to write out a gigantic extra tax bill with no knowledge about how large it actually will become in the end, in order to purchase a commodity of which nobody can assess the value.
It is uncertain whether there is an enhanced greenhouse effect or not. It is uncertain how strong it could be. It is uncertain whether it is harmful or not - or even beneficial!. It is uncertain what the best remedy is, should it be harmful. It is uncertain whether the chosen remedies will work or not. (The Norwegian IPCC parallel - Cicero - says that even the Kyoto agreement if implemented will only reduce the alleged warming by 0.1ºC in 2050; not more than 10% of the uncertainty in IPCC’s range). And, of course, it is uncertain how much it will cost, both in terms of direct expenses, lost economic growth, lost opportunities, losses because of social conflicts when hardships must be distributed - for industrialised and developing countries alike.
I would like to see a corner grocery deciding to invest in a new freezer on such a basis.
This is defended by the precautionary principle, which is used as an excuse for failing to do the job of going through a normal decision-making process where costs, benefits, risk and reward are assessed as well as possible. This is what we do, all of us, as individuals, companies and government, all the time. Dealing with uncertainty is not special for this issue. Why should it be exempted? Why must we in this particular case be kept ignorant of the value and price on what we are forced to buy?
Why is a decision-making procedure that elsewhere would have been considered highly irresponsible now considered the highest virtue?
It is worse: Contrary to market demand, we are given no choice. We are not even given a democratic vote, because of the speed and the supranational decision-making process.
The big question is: Is this particular commodity what we would have chosen as a sum of individual priorities, if we had the same level of knowledge as we have when we take our own private risk decisions or vote as a member of a board of directors or of a public body? Is the alleged global warming the one and only world problem that warrants this immense joint effort and expense, ahead of for instance AIDS, cancer, children dying from lack of water, Russian nuclear plants, poverty, earth erosion and so on? Why is so much more important to fight a possible future problem than to deal with real, present problems?
Another effect of the precautionary principle is that it reverses the burden of proof. Those proposing radical remedies only have to claim the possibility of harmful warming, whereas all opposition will have to prove there is no possibility whatsoever. Again the opposite of all that is normal democratic procedure.
The principle is defended by the claim that the harm, if it happens, is of such a magnitude that society cannot even contemplate the possibility or relate to this risk in a normal way. And even this is an unsubstantiated claim!
But let us, for the sake of the argument, accept it.
A frequent argument is that only a nuclear war will lead to damages of a greater magnitude - if it happens.
OK. Can the Kyoto delegates guarantee that there is absolutely no risk for a nuclear war today? With most of the arsenals still there, with warheads traded on the black market, with nuclear weapons all over the Middle East, with Israeli and Arab strategies to proliferate a possible nuclear war to the global level?
Did any of the Kyoto delegates during the Cold War advocate a massive, world-wide programme for long-term, safe nuclear shelters for all people - as they should have done, heeding the precautionary principle? Do they do it now? Have they considered immediate precautionary action in case some kind of doomsday virus from the superpowers’ biological warfare labs escaped? Have they prepared the people of the world from the consequences of the Earth being hit by a large celestial object?
The answers are of course no. All of this would be much too expensive. But, with regard to all these clearly possible catastrophes, we must expect that politicians have done their quiet cost/benefit and risk/reward considerations. No precautionary principle has been used. Which is very fortunate.
However, with regard to some of these risks, countries of course have certain limited strategies and preparedness. These have been decided by normal democratic procedures, doing what was considered reasonable.
This is what should have been done with regard to global warming as well, using normal democratic procedures. Doing this of course requires a certain knowledge of the science and related issues. But at this point we are told that we as «laymen» in the field of climatology cannot have opinions. We must simply trust the experts!
Is this what we always do otherwise?
Certainly not. In reality, we never accept the view of any authority - be it political, spiritual or scientific - at face value, and should never do so. Everybody - also experts - may be biased, short-sighted, unconcerned or simply wrong. Everything must be tried against common sense, and then made subject to a closer study if it doesn’t meet a common sense test, more extensive the more important the decision. Each of us make up our own opinion on professional issues every day, anyway. If we were to hide under a new shelter each time some «expert» tells us something may be dangerous, human society as we know it would come to an end..
Let’s compare the present situation with the debate around 1970, when the enlightened political consensus committed itself to conclusions from the Club of Rome’s study "Limits to Growth". This, too, gained credibility because we were told that it was done by expert scientists with the most modern computer modelling available. But really, all they did was to forecast consumption of various resources based on observed percentage-wise growth rates, and calculate when accumulated consumption exceeded known reserves. This was to happen for oil and gas in the early nineties and for most minerals before 2000, which would be the approximate year of a terrible eco-cataclysm.
But since any exponential growth sooner or later exceeds any limited quantity, these calculations could have been done by anybody. The error was on the conceptual level, and expert and layman alike were just as likely or unlikely to discover it: There is no such thing as known reserves of any of nature’s commodities; they exist in the Earth’s crust in abundance, and what may be recovered is dependent on the technological and economical conditions of each day and age. Known reserves only reflects the reserve base needed for planning ahead, but of course stops when the marginal value of development exceeds the marginal value of exploration (except in a planned economy like in the Soviet Union, which has left the present Russia with a abundance of non-developed proven fields and a mismanaged production system lacking investment in maintenance and secondary recovery).
The MIT group which did the Club of Rome’s calculations was not a public body. Still, its conclusions were supported by environmentalists and media, and managed for a while to dominate all political thinking, running along with recommendations of Zero economic growth. Nobody bothered to check out other science, except a few who discovered alternate views for example in the books by authors like John Maddox and Tor Ragnar Gerholm . They were scientists with added experience from journalism who decided to bring forward the mainstream of established science, lying hidden in state-of-the-art works in the research institutions, which never before had needed to address this particular issue to the public.
It is hard to say how far the Club of Rome scare could have come. Politicians were running ahead of each other to demand resource planning, quota systems and new duties on extraction and consumption of all kinds of minerals. One can only imagine how we today would have had to suffer if the Club had reached its Kyoto. But we were saved by OPEC and the first oil price hike (OPEC I 1973-74). For a short time, the world really experienced zero economic growth - and disliked it! Focus turned back to growth and recovery and away from the more refined and theoretical environmentalist concepts. Today, of course, everybody can see that the Club was manifestly wrong.
I think that everybody who learned their lesson from the Club of Rome debate would tend to consider the new climate debate with some degree of scepticism. Then, the novelty of computer modelling and the credibility this gave the project made it possible to evade a debate about basic concepts and assumptions. Maybe the same is the case now?
It is easy to see that the conclusions of a large body appointed by all the great governments of nations from the start had even higher credibility that the MIT group and the Club of Rome. It is also clear that the enhanced greenhouse theory had no scientific basis whatsoever before the IPCC was established (some of today’s protagonists of global warming had only just stopped talking about a new Ice Age), and that IPCC was established to work with this issue and this issue alone. If their first report has concluded that there was no problem, the program would of course have been discontinued.
Apart from that, I shall again not research motives. In fact, it is possible that nothing is wrong with the motives. What is wrong is that the international society in advance established one special group of scientists that were given monopoly on truth. One group will tend to develop one methodology, one culture and one internal consensus. But it need not be right. Other groups will do things differently and reach other results - which we know very much is the case. Usually, the truth evolves over time in normal scientific dialogue and criticism between many groups based in many research institutions. Unfortunately, such a procedure has not been allowed and all other institutions have been excluded or at best been made sub-sub-contractors to IPCC. What is worse, the final findings of IPCC are decided by majority vote in a body of science bureaucrats with political mandates from their governments.
Thus, motives may be as pure as a baby’s, but it is very unlikely that the truth can be discovered with a procedure like this.
In fact, the same is happening now as happened after the Club of Rome report. Other institutions and other scientists are coming up with differing views, and with normal criticism against IPCC. Like then, it took some time, because nobody before had taken on this immensely difficult task of predicting how the whole global eco-system would develop over decades, even centuries.
It is paradoxical that governments the world over are abandoning centralist economic planning , not least because it turned out pretty impossible to make even short-term valid model predictions, and simultaneously accept an immensely more complicated and unproved planning model. as foundation for dramatic policy decisions with profound economic consequences.
Scientists are reluctant to make simplified conclusions and to present their views in layman’s terms. When in addition nobody were in a position to voice alternate holistic views, criticism came gradually and was directed towards IPCC methodology and individual sub-sectors. But by and by, the criticism has become more co-ordinated, and many other academic institutions have become engaged in climate modelling. Also professional groups like geologists and oceanographers have pointed out erroneous use of knowledge from their areas of expertise. Virtually all alternate voices draw less dramatic conclusions than the IPCC.
This is surprising. If IPCC members had been picked at random and they had made random errors, one would expect that others would err in various directions before a natural corrective process would start to converge all towards a mature consensus.
As I understand it, one fundamental disagreement between IPCC and other highly qualified scientists concerns IPCC’s use of positive feedback as a basic assumption. This has been focused because of the discrepancy between ground data and satellite data (supported by weather balloon data) and now constitutes a fundamental dilemma for IPCC . The current defence is that satellites measure temperatures in higher atmospheric layers, whereas IPCC is concerned about the ground level, where water evaporate because of an incremental warming due to human CO2 emissions (CO2 alone answers only for approximately 1/3 of the predicted warming). The model then supposes that this water vapour rises to the levels where the greenhouse effect takes place, causing 2/3 of the predicted warming - «positive feedback». But this supposes close interrelations between the layers, which is contradicted by satellite and balloon data. IPCC could therefore either stick to its ground data and scrap the «positive feedback», making predicted warming negligible, or accept that no warming has taken place at all as indicated by satellites, no better for the apocalypse.
As I understand it, probably simplified but good enough for this purpose, negative feedback says that the incremental water vapour actually condenses into clouds that leads to increased precipitation, with an extra increase due to the CO2 -induced higher temperature. This would allow less and not more water vapour to rise to greenhouse levels, thus reducing the greenhouse effect. But IPCC models cannot reflect such events, since it has included clouds as a static, unchanging entity only - because modelling it would be too difficult!
It seems to me that we are back to the Club of Rome again. The scientists may be as honest and competent as you like, and the computer may be filled with just as many bytes and bits you like, but it is still possible - yes, likely - that any single group, led by one or just a few highly respected professional leaders, on its way may decide to include some basic concept and exclude some other. Anybody will have to make initial assumptions like this unless the job is to grow impossibly convoluted!
Positive feedback vs. negative feedback may be an example of this. Both are unproved theories, each with a small number of profiled and very qualified supporters. It can look like this item alone is like a plus/minus switch. If you choose one, global warming is on. If you choose the other, it is off. This is probably too simplified, but very illustrative of my main point, which is that somewhere in the process of picking the highest ranking professionals to steer IPPC, someone actually turned a number of such switches on or off, simply by picking one very learned professor instead of another. After that, the panel may spend billions on subcontracted science and refining of models, but the main directions of the work would already have been decided.
Another switch that must have been set early was whether to include solar activities as a possible cause for medium-term Earth temperature variations or not. A group of Danish scientists in 1991 discovered an amazing correlation between the length of the sunspot cycle and mean Earth temperatures . This was, however, arrogantly rejected by IPCC without any studies, because the variations of energy output from the Sun were too small to account for Earth variations. The Danish scientists agreed to this, but continued to investigate. And in early 1997, they discovered a very likely explanation: Variations of solar winds function as a moderator of the cosmic ray flux, which in turn triggers variations in the water vapour content of those atmospheric layers important to the greenhouse effect. And now the energy math balanced. But IPCC is still uninterested. It seems that its leaders a long time ago simply decided that solar related theories belonged to the X-files, and now are unable to change their opinions.
This summer, at a major conference of oceanographers, Dr. Carl Wunsch of MIT criticized IPCC for using an outdated model for the movements of major ocean currents . The water masses does not only move horizontally in relatively stable layers, but also in massive vertical movements. Exchanging water between upper and lower layers does not take thousands of years, but only a little more than 10 years. This is crucial for the climate models. Slow exchange means slow absorption of atmospheric heat and CO2. A dramatically more efficient exchange means in this time perspective almost immediate absorption.
Then there is the issue of higher ocean levels. Dr. Fred Singer of Science & Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) has shown that polar ice caps are likely to grow, not melt away even if there is warming, because of increased precipitation (snow) in these areas .
Here are at least four points where IPCC has made assumptions that may or may not be true. If IPCC had chosen the opposite set of four, Kyoto would have been left with its ordinary tourism this year. Maybe even with only one or two other choices.
These examples may have been presented too simplified here, but my point is to illustrate that science, too, has to deal with uncertainty at many levels. Usually, we are told that science builds on safe and axiomatic assumptions and gives us results with specified uncertainties build in, and then it is up to politicians to decide how to face the specified uncertainty. Not so! Even scientists will have to choose within ranges of uncertainties before they start their work, and this is not reflected in the outcome at all.
In fact, science is influenced if not by politics, so certainly by philosophy and epistemology when moving deep into its foundations. This is obvious for humaniora, but true also for physics, in particular after the arrival of quantum mechanics and chaos theory.
Now we have to tackle the unpleasant question: Why is it that all the switches we can observe (I haven’t mentioned all here), seems to have been turned in favour of a dangerous global warming? Some might believe that this was done consciously from the beginning as another kind of precautionary measure: Let’s be sure not to include scientists who will kill this immediately; because then we shall never know the truth. This is of course possible, but there is another explanation: That there is a connection between how these switches are set in the mind of any scientist (or journalist or politician), based on each person’s approach to uncertainty and risk management.
It is certainly likely that there may be patterns in how each one of us approach uncertainty. In this respect we can expect just as much subjectivity from the expert as from the laymen, because expertise always is concentrated to limited areas even of science and only very, very few like Stephen Hawkins exist, coming close to be expert on a very generalized level.
With the focus we today have on Earth science, limits to human action, environmental forecasts etc., and realising the enormous uncertainties involved, it wouldn’t be strange if even natural science, until now believed to be very objective, in the future will disintegrate into district and competing professional «schools», just like for instance economics - or that this is indeed already happening!
What made Keynes a keynesian and von Mises a libertarian? With access to more or less the same facts, the answer must lie in different approaches or basic attitudes: Their view of the cognitive human being and its interrelationship to others of the same kind.
Similarly one could ask what makes one scientist a deep ecologist and another a supporter of technology, again with more or less the same facts available? The answer this time must be: Their view of the cognitive human being and its relationship to nature and the other species in the Earth’s eco-system.
Some may for example view the eco-systems as very vulnerable, whereas others may feel that eco-systems must be in fairly stable dynamic equilibrium.
Not a scientist myself, I have always thought it to be illogical that Earth’s ecosystems should be so vulnerable as environmentalists suppose, in this case that a small increase in atmospheric CO2 contents over a very short period in Earth’s life should throw it off-balance. It is common knowledge that temperature and CO2 contents have varied much more from natural causes. It seems like common sense to believe that Earth’s ecology is in fairly stable dynamic equilibrium, from the pure fact that it has survived and sustained life for so many years. Other worlds may not have, so it is not a miracle or great coincidence, but a matter of natural selection.
Some of us feel that further exploration, information-gathering, value-creation and crossing of new frontiers are necessary for human existence, others may feel that humans easily could adapt to a much more static and authoritarian society, and that nature is so precious that one cannot take any risk with it. It would be inevitable that such basic beliefs would influence each individual’s approach to uncertainty and lead to a pattern of preference in risk administration - and how to delineate any research project in scope when this is necessary!
It is therefore very likely that what we are witnessing is the emergence of various schools also within natural science, and that these schools are reflections of certain basic human ground beliefs or paradigms, just as they have their political expressions in green and non-green policies. The kinship may not have been fully recognised, even though it is clearly observable as an alliance in practical life.
This should be no more surprising than the fact that we have social democrats and liberals with similar kinship on the axiomatic level to keynesians and libertarians within social economic science (right/left).
The right/left dimension has to do with how man is perceived to act towards other men and his relationship to society. The more to the left, the more the aims are defined outside the individual, i. e. in society’s interests. The liberal maintains that man must act on the basis of his cognitive abilities; his senses and his reason, and that all rules of moral behaviour must derive from his realisation of reciprocity of interests defined in this manner, rationally constructed into a society designed to support the individual.
Also what is in philosophy described as modern positivism, reaching broader than liberalism, supports the creation of moral values from the point of view of the cognitive man.
Inherent in this approach is the constant process of risk/reward and cost/benefit evaluation. Knowledge can only be acquired by experiment or learned from others, both involving risk. But knowledge must be acquired. Action must be taken, and the choice of action depends on knowledge and therefore risk. Is the value of what I consider doing or acquiring worth the cost and the risk of getting it?
Now, superficially the supporters of strong measures against global warming argue that this is necessary to protect humans from disaster; societies as well as individuals. Is the green paradigm therefore simply a variety of socialism/social democracy and/or liberalism, respectively?
No, because the precautionary principle gives it away. If also environmental issues like global warming were to be dealt with through the positivistic/liberal risk management, no precautionary principle could be used.
It here suffices to point out that humans as individuals risk the ultimate danger all the time. Consider a NASA space pilot or any other explorer, then it is obvious. But even the old aunt who in her eightieth year finally accepts to fly to her great-grandnephew’s christening risks death in a plane crash, because not being there is too much to bear. The precautionary principle would in both cases, and in all in between, say: Stay at home. You might die.
Therefore, it is not for the sake of the individuals that the precautionary principle is applied. That’s obvious enough: I think any individual would rather take the better economic opportunities against risking having to move his home away from the seaside once in a century. So it is alien to the liberal paradigm.
Neither is it for the sake of human society. The interests of liberal society equals the liberal interests, and the collective society will thrive even better and stay in power the more it can protect its citizens against any kind of real or imagined calamity, at the cost of their liberties, of course. All natural catastrophes must be met and solved with collective means, more taxes, more bureaucrats, more society!
Remember that I am not saying that rational individuals and societies should not take steps to guard themselves from natural catastrophes. Acting in rational self-interest, of course they should and will, but only after a rational process where the protection is assigned a value greater than the alternative. This means that you often will face the risk in pursuit of something desirable.
Neither am I saying that rational individuals or societies should not take steps to protect the environment and other species. They should and they have done so always, but again in their rational self-interest, after they have assigned a value to the level or extent of protection. The value may be based on economics, resource management, aesthetics, knowledge or even pity, but it is always defined relative to man and mankind.
Taking any issue out of a risk/reward and cost/benefit connection, comprising the weighing of all values and all risks against each other for best possible optimising, means a sub-optimising for man and therefore introduction of an element of values defined outside of man and his society.
And this is the point. Radical environmentalism - in the US existing very much and openly as deep ecology - implies that intrinsic values and rights are assigned to nature and to other species, and that human beings are considered more or less to be enemies to their natural surroundings.
Now, it sounds beautiful to give rights to fuzzy animals, plants, heaven and sky, doesn’t it? Maybe not so nice to give rights to cockroaches, snakes, scorpions and the AIDS virus? But anyway, it is all just an illusion. Nature and animals are not able to assert any rights. We are speaking of some people demanding to wield power taken from other people because those some people claim to be better protectors of non-cognitive beings than others. It is Comrade Napoleon all over again.
In reality, you can never move rights outside humanity where rights cannot be asserted. You can only infringe the rights of some to increase the power of others. Neither can there exist values defined by entities that are not cognitive. They can only be distorted by the use of force or fraud between cognitive beings.
Therefore, following the green wave through precautionary action and further is to enter dangerous territory. It is leaving liberal and social democratic territory alike. These are alien lands, even to umbrella philosophies like modern positivism and democracy.
In these lands, some people claim to be a priesthood for non-human interests, equipped by some mysterious outside source with a moral right to overrule all other individuals’ choices and preferences. I am not speaking about promoting environmental interests through democratic action. Under open and free debate, others maintain the right to seek knowledge about costs and benefits. I am speaking about the use of force and fraud in the interests of an alleged higher cause, making the ends justify the means.
That this is happening already, is evident. In the US, deep ecologists use spiking to stop foresting. Mr. Unabomber may have been alone, but in principle it is the same. Greenpeace, certain organisations for the protection of animals and others admittedly use force to achieve their goals. Threats in Norway to use civil disobedience, i. e. illegal occupation of territory, against the two planned gas power works is about violence. Illegal boarding and sinking of Norwegian whaling vessels likewise.
So what about the Kyoto agreement?
At this point, it is in some kind of border land. It is still subject to ratification by Parliaments. It remains to be seen how open and democratic procedures will be.
But the misrepresentation of the science by the politicians is very disturbing. The establishment of IPPC as an opinion monopoly and the suppression of other information as well as all uncertainty are elements that are dangerously close to justify a label of fraud.
Therefore, I am returning to the question of why politicians of the world against the better knowledge of most of them describe the science as proven and hide the uncertainties. Yes, I think it is because they realise that this is necessary to maintain the lucrative illusion of a morally important quest for mankind’s survival, and have people accept the associated hardship.
But this is a blatant betrayal of the voters’ trust. That’s very risky. Again - why?
Now is the point to return to the question of the philosophical roots of radical environmentalism. I have argued that at some point, environmentalism leaves liberal and social democratic territory and becomes anti-human, collectivist and authoritarian.
I think that most politicians either believe or desperately need to believe that this is not so; that environmentalism simply is a sector interest in democratic society that should be accommodated as much as possible since this is the wave of the time. Environmentalism appears in our time as so attractive that liberal and social democratic politicians cannot bear to part with it and its political mileage and allow other politicians to get ahead. Therefore they engage themselves in a desperate chase to please one green variety after the other.
This had now led them into a position very close to committing fraud against their voters. Unless we experience much more honesty about the real risks and costs and uncertainties during the national ratification procedures, they will morally be guilty of fraud (but we may still find ourselves a long way from a judge!).
This desperation must be understood in the light of today’s general breakdown of old paradigms and the necessary emergence of new. The demise of communism, the emergence of a fundamentally different IT society, the inability of existing theories to explain and certainly to steer the economic development, the challenge from the Far East, the rapprochement between social democracy and market liberalism in Europe, the environment debate itself and many other factors have brought us into a period of fundamental ideological change. There is a strong impression that the old philosophies and political parties have come to the end of the road. They have little left to fight for, cannot identify any visions for the future and have degenerated to administrators of status quo.
Without convincing causes of their own, of course social democrats and liberals try to keep the potent environmentalism on board.
On the other hand, the end of communism has made power-seekers everywhere homeless, eagerly looking for new means to intimidate people into giving up their freedom. Environmentalism - to start with supported by everybody - is a good cause to abuse because of its high credibility, but also because of its affinity to causes «higher» than humanity and human liberty. Only by making people believe in such causes can they be convinced to accept reduced freedom and eventually dictatorship. The old parties still consider environmentalism as a somewhat demanding, but basically good-heartened cause and do not expect any dangerous attacks to come from that direction. And that is precisely why they do.
If social democracy and liberalism are to survive the coming change of paradigms, they have to equip themselves to handle not only the man-to-man and man-to-society relationships, but also the man-to-nature relationship. They have to define clearly that cognitive humans must be the source of values, rights and morality, and that humanity has the right to govern nature and use its resources for its own purposes. They have to show people a vision of the future where humanity explores and reaches new frontiers of knowledge, space and technology, continuing its strive for progress and happiness, but also satisfying its own need for contact with nature and all its species.
The nature and co-ordination of technological and social progress has really never been very high on the short-sighted political agenda. Now it must. We must learn to understand that trends cannot be judged alone, that each level of technology and society has its own characteristics, sets is own new trends and will face and solve its own problems. We can and should do ours to understand and respect possible limits set by nature, but using sound scientific methods, learning not to be scared into panic by any alleged risk.
Also, we need to understand ourselves better. We have to understand better how humans tick; how important it is for humans to extend their perspective and continuously strive for improvement and venture across new frontiers, and what extreme risk aversion, particularly enforced such, can do to humans’ self-respect and well-being. I suspect these items are very important, but it is of course possible that humans are widely different in this respect. If so, social coherence can only be maintained by open and democratic decision-making processes, trying to find ways to accommodate all needs, not sacrifice somebody’s for the sake of others.
There is no reason why future society should be dull or lacking of purpose, even for today’s seemingly spent politicians.
Hans Henrik Ramm
Return to "Still Waiting For Greenhouse"