Global Warming Is No Match for Capitalism

Published January 30, 2007

The theory that human activities are adversely affecting the global climate has attracted many supporters–not because of the soundness of the science, which few people are competent to judge, but because acting to stop this supposed threat would benefit their particular interests.

Academics who can identify a link, however tenuous, between global warming and their research interests enjoy lucrative research grants. Former politicians find in global warming a way to remain relevant. Europeans see in it a way to hobble an American economy that outperforms them by every measure. And liberals and leftists of various stripes see global warming as a justification to further tax and regulate industry and redistribute wealth.

Businesses and industries, too, have climbed aboard the global warming bandwagon. Like the others, they have discovered that going green brings in gold, whether by increasing their customer base, qualifying them for taxpayer subsidies, or burdening would-be competitors with onerous regulations.

It is almost pointless, given the current mass delusion, to discuss the science behind the global warming scare because, despite the evidence, our nation and all the world seem determined to spend hundreds of billions of dollars, perhaps even trillions of dollars, in a futile campaign to reduce CO2 emissions.

Of concern to many thinking people is the effect this expensive and futile campaign will have on our economic liberties and the capitalist system that makes possible the prosperity that, ironically, makes spending on hypothetical and distant risks like global warming possible in the first place. Will public policies, adopted in the name of preventing or slowing global warming, seriously slow economic growth and undermine capitalist institutions in the way many liberals and leftists so fervently hope?

In short, no. This is so because, regardless of the various public and private, state or federal, or United Nations-imposed schemes to reduce CO2, they cannot succeed unless society is willing to forgo the economic growth we and most of the rest of the world strive for. That is not likely to happen. We can posture, sound green, even look green, but we will not go so far as to be green if doing so means real economic sacrifice.

True, the opacity of politics means we may waste a great deal of money with no real benefit to humanity. The same can be said, however, for many thousands of laws already on the books which penalize our economy with no visible benefits. It is true, even, of many capitalist ventures–Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” is not free, after all.

Through it all, capitalism survives.

There are always those who can turn laws into profits, of course. Lawyers, lobbyists, politicians, and special interest groups all can be found pushing hard these days for global warming legislation. This will always be so, because while capitalism is a marvelous economic system, it also creates opportunities for parasites (a strong word, but appropriate) to game the system for their own personal gain and to the detriment of the public.

At some point, those who hope global warming will undermine our capitalist system will learn it can only slow it temporarily, until entrepreneurial business leaders learn to turn public and government concern to their own advantage.

The second law of thermo-dynamics dictates that every system naturally degrades from organization to disorganization without the addition of energy into the system. A free capitalist society will degrade to socialism without strong guardians ready to take up the gauntlet to preserve the system.

The defection of industry leaders into the global warming camp is not, as some have feared and others have hoped, a sign of this degradation into socialism. In truth, this is capitalism at work, though perhaps not at its best. We developed a radon removal industry to answer the false radon scare, and an asbestos removal industry to counter the false asbestos scare. Likewise we are now creating a global warming industry, good at producing warm fuzzy feelings, but unlikely to solve a real problem.

For a long time, some have harbored a nefarious plot to convince our nation man is responsible for altering the Earth’s climate–all so they can undermine our continuing improvement of the human condition through capitalism. They think they are winning handily, but in fact they are not and never will.

Jay Lehr, PhD. ([email protected]), science director for The Heartland Institute, is an internationally renowned speaker and scientist. He is co-editor of the Water Encyclopedia (Wiley-Interscience 2005), among many other publications.