2011-10-03

Why Climate Change is So Important for the Left

When you think about it, climate change should be an issue that doesn't "choose sides." Some of us will inevitably favor government policies that aim to account for climate change, and others will not. The issue itself has precious little tie-in to other big ticket political issues like abortion, social welfare programs, jobs-creation policy, international trade, etc.

Because it doesn't have much to do with these other issues, it's difficult to really understand why virtually everyone on the left is a firm believer in the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory. The same cannot be said of people on the right-hand side of politics. Some of them, such as John McCain, are ardent believers in AGW, while others are not. It is not easy to know in advance which rightists believe in AGW unless you ask them. Leftists, on the other hand, are virtually unanimous on the issue.

And not just unanimous, but passionate. Indeed, I am often taken aback by the extent to which the issue is moralized. It is not simply a good practice to recycle, it is morally reprehensible not to. But why? We all understand that living cleaner is better than being messy and dirty, but can it really be said that reducing, reusing, and recycling is a moral requirement? At any rate, most leftists believe that it is...

Why is the AGW issue so important to the left? 
I would like to venture my own personal theory...

On virtually every other political issue, leftists have not taken the position of the scientific majority.

On economic issues, for example, leftists frequently find themselves at odds with the majority of mainstream economists. For better or for worse, leftists find the economic analyses of e.g. Karl Marx, Max Weber, Naomi Klein, and Noam Chomsky far more compelling than those of, say, Milton Friedman and Robert Lucas. It is often said among leftists that economics is a mere tool for corporations to provide a justification for their exploitative goals. Leftism is so steeped in this sort of belief that - at least on the majority of economic issues - core, theoretical leftism finds itself at odds with the "scientific" majority.

To choose another issue for illustrative purposes, a large majority of leftists are pro-choice on the issue of abortion and euthanasia. Their rationale for this position, however, is not steeped in the scientific definition of life, where it begins and ends, etc. Their rationale is simply a matter of civil rights, the right to own our own bodies and to choose accordingly.

Similarly, leftists favor legalization of drugs neither because drugs have scientific benefits nor due to the violence inherent in black markets. Instead, leftists simply believe that a person is entitled to do to their own bodies what they themselves see fit, so long as they aren't endangering others.

Again and again, leftists find themselves taking moral positions on political issues. The cold, dispassionate, and scientific points of view are often derided by leftists. Leftists prefer not to view human beings as "mere numbers."

And yet, the climate change issue is entirely different. Here, at last, leftists share the point of view held by the majority of climate scientists.

The issue is, perhaps, the one and only issue that is purely a matter of science for leftists. (As I have noted above, the leftists have turned it into a moral issue, for whatever reason; but at any rate the fact remains that the bulk of the climate change rationale is rooted in the published papers of scientists.) Here, at last, leftists have an opportunity to deride all dissenters as non-scientific ignorami, religious zealots who have traded in their minds for right-wing idiocy.

Were the left to relinquish this issue - if leftists were to become disbelievers of AGW - they would no longer have a scientific claim to any issue whatsoever. Fully 100% of their political positions would be entirely moral in nature; none of their positions would be scientifically based.

Because of this, leftists cannot afford to take any position other than that the AGW theory is indisputable scientific fact.

They are painting themselves into a corner, however. As human knowledge progresses on matters of climate and physics, additional climactic subtleties reveal themselves. The exact relationship among solar radiation, air temperature, atmospheric composition, heat, and ocean currents is increasingly revealed to be an unfathomably complex system.

The results of human action on a system that is increasingly complex are, therefore, increasingly uncertain. While I will probably never live to see the day when leftists and rightists mostly agree on the issue, each passing year renders the climate predictions and allegations of the past increasingly more preposterous.

Eventually the "scientific consensus" will disappear and will be replaced with additional complexities, as has been demonstrated in virtually every other branch of science. Science abhors dogma. Today's majority is not guaranteed to be tomorrow's majority.

It would be unfortunate for the left if they once again chose dogma over science.