Let’s Be Reasonable About Climate Change

First, I think it is important to be clear about my views on anthropogenic climate change: I think it is quite reasonable to assume that it must be happening. I think it is foolish to assume that we can relocate entire forests* and change the composition of our atmosphere without any environmental consequences. Even if we do not affect average temperatures, we will probably significantly change weather patterns at some point. However, I think that the extent and speed at which it is happening are often grossly exaggerated – or, at least, stated as indisputable fact without sufficient proof. In making their claims and fighting the good fight, climate change activists often reveal a few things about themselves that they might not want people to know and might not even realize themselves.

(*Yes, I do know that we have more forest land in the United States now than we did in 1900, but much of it has been moved, and much of its fauna did not move with it.)

Problems with Obsessive Climate Change Activists

1. They are politically motivated.

The general view held against the skeptics is that their arguments are politically motivated. Well, let us settle that right here and now: They are. Of course they are! Skeptic senators and representatives have campaign coffers full of funds from oil and gas companies. Skeptic voters often work for oil and gas companies or live in economies that rely heavily upon those companies – and they buy a lot of gasoline too. However, the claim that the other side is not politically motivated is complete nonsense. Yes, many of the skeptics are in the pockets of Big Oil. However, it would be extremely disingenuous to say that elected officials championing the climate change cause are not receiving any campaign bucks for doing so – and that the organizations giving them those bucks are honestly 100% concerned with protecting the environment and are not ultimately disinterested political machines merely looking for more power.

In 2010, Al Gore tried to direct attention away from the politicized nature of his crowd’s efforts by saying that climate change was a “moral issue,” the implication being that government should use that as a reason to become even more actively engaged in the issue. Compare that with statements made by countless leftists about how government should not get involved in abortion (even though they do want the government to get involved by funding it), homosexuality (even though they do want government to get involved by officially advocating and institutionalizing it), and any number of other social issues because the government should stay out of “moral issues”. So which is it? Does the fact that it is a “moral issue” make it something that the government should get involved in or not? If we have any decency, we will admit that every political issue is a moral issue and that many moral issues are political issues.

2. Often enough, they are not exactly being scientific.

The recent fiasco on Reddit in which climate change skeptics were blackballed from commenting because their claims were supposedly unscientific is only one of many cases in which people have seemed to think that consensus equals fact. Expert consensus is certainly something to be respected – especially by lay people – but it is not fact. Consensus has been wrong many times in the scientific community, which is why the scientific community tends to welcome a certain level of dissent. Those who, like Al Gore, say that this is “settled science” and “incontrovertible” are actually acting in opposition to the scientific method rather than in accordance with it. Dr. Ivar Giaever, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, resigned from the American Physical Society (APS) in 2011 out of disgust for the group’s unwillingness to entertain dissent on the matter of climate change. As Giaever said, “In the APS, it is okay to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?” Challenging President Obama’s assertion that the matter was “beyond dispute,” a list of over 100 climate scientists signed a statement in 2009 in which they communicated their professional opinion that he was very much incorrect in this assertion. Indeed, at one point, some probably said that Newton’s corpuscular theory of light was “incontrovertible” and “beyond dispute.”

3. They exaggerate. Grossly. (And they are sometimes demonstrably wrong.)

One of the biggest falsehoods propagated by the climate change movement – and still believed by many – is that the melting of polar sea ice will result in higher sea levels. This is contrary to basic physics. If you fill a glass of ice water to the brim and let it sit, will the melting of the ice cause it to overflow? No. It will not. This is because H2O displaces more space as a solid than as a liquid. Therefore, while the melting of glacial ice like that on Greenland and Antarctica does cause sea levels to rise, the melting of sea ice actually causes sea levels to fall. The entertainment of such patently false ideas makes it difficult for the climate change people to claim the scientific high ground.

Another point of misunderstanding is the inflation of data with regards to deforestation. For instance, it has been said that Americans’ toilet paper buying habits – the tendency to favor product that is very soft – is destructive to the environment because one cannot make such soft toilet paper from recycled materials, requiring the cutting down of trees. What people do not realize, though, is that, unlike materials such as metal and plastic, paper is a renewable resource – a crop. Many of the “forests” that are cut down to make that paper were actually planted by paper companies specifically for that purpose. If anything, by facilitating the growth of trees and replanting wood crops as they do, American paper companies do a lot to reduce atmospheric carbon. Even if concerns about overflowing landfills are considered, would we rather have that carbon in the ground or in the air? Another example of exaggerated deforestation claims is the tendency to inflate the numbers when it comes to the reduction of rainforest. While deforestation in the rainforests is certainly a problem, those who tell you that X acres are being cut down and burned every day tend to fail to mention the fact that, in many cases, the same areas of forest are cut and burned repeatedly because forests, being made of plants, have a tendency to grow again once they have been cut down. I say this not because I do not care about the rainforests, but because I do care about the rainforests: exaggeration detracts from legitimacy and makes it easy for people to make oversimplified counterpoints by pointing to your exaggeration.

More importantly than such points of basic scientific ignorance, though, are the cases in which the doomsday projections made by climate change activists have been way off base. One of the most famous of these was that made by Michael Oppenheimer and Robert H. Boyle, who in 1990 predicted that we would basically be facing the end of the world by 1995 due to anthropogenic climate change. We are still waiting. It does not take long to find a whole list of such gems. Even if the general gist of their position were correct – which I think it is – the degree to which such false doomsday prophets obsess over their projections of an ecological apocalypse is infuriating in that it detracts from the legitimacy of actual level-headed people with real concerns about the environment. Anyway, even if such immediate and complete projections of ecological collapse were true, there would be little we could do about them anyway, so they actually tend to compel people toward inaction more than anything.

My Take

Climate change is a real concern, and our rainforests do need to be protected. For that reason, in fighting for the environment, we must maintain a sense of scientific legitimacy. For that reason, we must not resort to heavy-handed measures to silence the skeptics because we are tired of hearing their politically motivated criticisms of statements that were also obviously politically motivated. We must also be willing to accept the possibility that much of what we assume may simply be wrong – admitting to the instances in which that has been the case in the past.

So what should we do?

First, we must strike a balance between ecological and economic concerns. While we say that failed ecological policy will amount to failed economic policy, we must be willing to admit the reverse. Imagine a world in which unfettered and unrealistic policies of environmental protection result in a complete economic collapse. Now imagine what will happen to the environment when everyone starts burning wood and trash to stay warm and when basic services like sewage treatment shut down or are unable to expand due to a lack of economic resources.

Second, we must use government resources to pursue real development of greentech instead of trying to line the pockets of our constituencies. I’m looking at you, A123 systems, and the $200 million federal grant you got to finance an ultimately failed enterprise in exchange for your pittance of a campaign contribution to Barack Obama. (I have an MBA, and I’m thinking about starting a green technology firm. Can I have $200 million in free money too?) Government should never give grants to handpicked technology firms before they have done what needs to be done. If anything, government should issue or guarantee loans or give after-the-fact grants as incentives within a framework of free and open competition.

Third, we have to consider all of the consequences of our actions. While some of us may think that hefty taxes on fossil fuels would be a good thing, the rural poor who make little money and buy a lot of fuel would disagree. It puzzles me that those who are against the FairTax on the grounds that it would be a disproportionately heavy burden on the lower and middle classes are often so enthusiastic about high excise taxes on fossil fuels, as these would have the same effect.

Fourth, as I have already suggested, we need to stop freaking out. It only alienates people and makes us look like idiots when the sky does not actually fall.

Fifth, we must emphasize the other, less controversial reasons to develop green energy. Conservatives love things like energy independence, increased economic efficiency, and higher property values. They will even appreciate things like lower occurrences of cancer due to less particulate matter in the air if we would just explain that instead of screaming about highly debatable figures regarding temperature fluctuations. It is a simple fact that finding common ground is the best way to get things done, so we should ask ourselves: Are we more concerned with bringing about positive change or with using incendiary and overblown rhetoric to mobilize the base and win elections? Something to think about.

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A Clearer Definition of Terrorism

terrorist

In a world of strong governments that are generally pretty good at talking things out – even when that talk is vain and empty – the tendency to resort to all-out warfare as a default mechanism of international relations has become a thing of the past. Cities are no longer besieged by armies, and warships are no longer torpedoed by other warships. Instead, as we are currently seeing in the western Pacific, nations engage in a carefully choreographed dance around warfare, flashing their destructive capabilities for all to see while their talking heads try to make their respective nations appear non-aggressive by pretending that the situation is normal. In this complicated web of hedging and doubletalk, nations do not resort to measures so rash as actually attacking other nations. We may “police”, “liberate”, and “keep the peace” – and those claims may or may not be accurate – but gone are the days in which you take the other nation’s land by force and raise your flag above it, claiming it for your own. But in this situation of what might be termed a multi-polar cold war, there are actual aggressors: they are the terrorists.

Terrorism has become such a problem for our age in part because we continue to have trouble understanding it. In this enlightened age of posturing and feints, terrorists do not play by the rules: they actually kill people and blow things up. We do not understand why they would want to engage in tactics that are so clearly counter-productive and doomed to fail – and they continue to confuse us because, using such base and self-destructive methods, they somehow manage to elude destruction. The frightening truth is that our understanding of terrorism is so limited that we cannot even give it a clear definition. A Hamas militant intentionally blows up a bus full of people, and we say that this is clearly terrorism. An American drone operator for some reason kills an entire family while they are tending their crops, and we say that this is not terrorism – but then others vociferously disagree. The dictionary definition does not help much: “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes”. Some would say that the definition of terrorism is completely relative: many have told me that George Washington could be considered a terrorist, as they feel that there is no clear distinction between a terrorist and a freedom fighter, revolutionary, or rebel. Such people often suggest that terrorism is not necessarily evil. Others seem to just feel that a terrorist is “anyone who violently opposes my sociopolitical sphere.” For the sake of bringing a little clarity to sociopolitical discussion (and debate), I offer a clearer definition of terrorism – a definition in which terrorism is evil and unnecessary, and in which other types of armed struggle cannot be so easily confused with it. Generally speaking, I feel that a particular attack can be classified as “terrorist” in nature if it meets at least two of these three qualifications:

1. State Disavowal

The military forces of states often engage in violence beyond the bounds of what is generally recognized as regular warfare, with soldiers killing, raping, pillaging, and razing among civilian populations. However, as terrible as these acts are, they do not necessarily constitute terrorism. This is especially true in the case of unintentional collateral violence – which will occur in almost any war. For the most part, terrorism is not something done by regular military or police forces. Rather, it is violence perpetrated either by non-state entities or by parties acting under orders from state authorities without any official recognition of their relationship with the state.

2. Civilian Targets

Regular armies tend to focus on destroying military targets. Certainly, this is not a hard rule: in the Second World War, for instance, civilian populations were intentionally targeted by all major players. However, the primary concern of soldiers in the Second World War – even for the Nazis – was always to destroy enemy military forces. Terrorism, on the other hand, is characterized by the intentional and concerted targeting of civilians. Thus, while the attack on the World Trade Center was clearly a terrorist attack, the simultaneous attack on the Pentagon might not have been if not for the people on the airliner that was used as a missile. The terrorist nature of the Ft. Hood shooting is debatable on this point. On the one hand, Ft. Hood was a military installation. On the other hand, the people shot were unarmed, and they were not at that time engaged in any operations that might have been construed as militant in nature, such as occupying a foreign country, apprehending enemies of the state, or subduing riots.

3. Unreasonable Motivation

This is perhaps the most important point, though the most abstract. Terrorism is characterized by an ultimate goal that is extremely unreasonable or even inherently violent itself. For instance, carrying out attacks against an occupying force with the goal of driving that force out of one’s territory might not be considered terrorism. However, if the goal is to punish an enemy indefinitely or to halt the violence only once the entire enemy nation has been enslaved or wiped out, this would clearly be terrorism. Thus, if a boy in a nondescript village in Afghanistan takes up arms against NATO troops because he perceives them as invaders, while he is clearly an enemy combatant, he is not exactly a terrorist. However, any entity that would seek to wipe Israel (or any other nation) off the map meets this qualification easily.

So…

I see no evidence that George Washington was a terrorist. Neither do I see any evidence that the federal government of the United States of America is an organization that carries out terrorist activities. (Of course, if it were to do so, official disavowal would probably ensure that I would not know about it anyway.)

But…

This definition of terrorism is not meant to suggest that other acts of violence are acceptable just because they are not technically terrorist activities. I do not mean to downplay the horror of violence, but merely to properly categorize it.

New Palestine: A Bold, New, and Only Slightly Insane Approach to World Peace

It is not working. Our weapons continue to improve. Our tactics continue to improve. We have allowed government entities like the CIA, NSA, and FTA egregiously overstep boundaries for the sake of keeping us safe. We give billions to countries that hate us, only to see those resources used to empower tyrants and warlords and thereby further fuel that hatred. The total combined cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is estimated to be between $4 trillion and $6 trillion. (Our current GDP is $16.7 trillion.) Even the founder of Blackwater says that the war on terror has become too big! While we have certainly landed a succession of crippling blows to the major terrorist organizations of the world, it seems that we will never be able to beat them to death completely, especially so long as we continue to incur “collateral” human costs in the process – such as the tragedy that occurred to Nabila Rehman. It may be foolish to say that fighting terror as we have been doing is unnecessary, but it is clearly insufficient. We need a new play – a new paradigm, a new philosophy altogether. We need something that will elicit not just shock and awe, but appreciation and respect as well. We need to not only stop existing terrorist groups, but also to halt the creation of new terrorists. Death to terrorists may come with missiles and bombs, but death to terrorism will only come as a result of a series of strategic ideological victories.

While there are many flashpoints feeding terrorism across the globe, there is none more important to the ideologies of our enemies than the ongoing conflict in Israel/Palestine. To describe the situation as complicated would be to make one of the greatest understatements in human history. In a nutshell, the Israelis and Palestinians continue to fight a war of walls, attack helicopters, and bulldozers against tunnels, rockets, and homemade bombs. To continue supporting Israel as we have long done would be to continue supporting an oppressive military occupation condemned by nations all around the world. To cease supporting Israel would be to leave that small republic at the mercy of enemies who have called for the extermination of its people for decades. Creating an independent nation from the Palestinian Territories would be an affront to Israel as the entire motivation behind its maltreatment of the people in Gaza and the West Bank is a pressing sense of vulnerability, which would probably only worsen. I submit that the most viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be to carry out an act of international cooperation eclipsing even that which resulted in the creation of the modern state of Israel: we need to build a New Palestine, a place to which oppressed Palestinians can voluntarily relocate, where they can maintain a distinct Palestinian identity without being oppressed or feeling the need to trust in ruthlessly violent groups for their salvation.

The Scope and the Cost
The total population of the Palestinian Territories as of 2013 is roughly 4.5 million. To be sure, building housing and infrastructure for such a crowd would be a massive and expensive undertaking, and it would surely require attention to no shortage of sociopolitical issues. However, we should not underestimate the potential of modern engineering, properly applied. For instance, based on one supplier’s estimation, it is reasonable to price a “house in a box” of 555 square feet – big enough to reasonably accommodate a family of four – at about $19,000. This comes to $4,750 per person, or roughly $24 billion. For electricity, by going to the high end of an estimate of $2.50 to $4.00 per watt for the building of infrastructure, we could expect that it would cost roughly $16 billion to construct concentrated solar plants to power New Palestine. Based on an estimation of $500 per person, water and sanitation infrastructure would cost about $2.5 billion. To set up a water desalination infrastructure, based on the $300 million Carlsbad plant that serves 100,000 households, a conservative cost estimate for New Palestine’s needs would be $4 billion. Assuming a need for about 1,500 miles of road at a cost of $300,000 per mile, one could round up to an estimate of $0.5 billion for roads. Even doubling this total to account for public buildings and other infrastructure costs, this comes to less than $100 billion. While this is certainly no paltry sum, it is much smaller than the estimated $6 trillion total cost of the War on Terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

In short, as a cooperative project among the various nations of the world and the organizations that operate within them, even if the cost is considerable, it is still within reach. How many wars and conflicts could be averted through a peaceful and complete neutralization of the long-standing crisis of violence, fear, and oppression in Israel/Palestine?

Problems and Concerns
Secondary Displacement
Upon sharing the basic aspects of this idea with a friend, I received the following concern: “If the Palestinians were to move elsewhere, would they not be displacing yet another people? We do not want to simply set off a chain reaction of injustice upon injustice.” This is a valid concern, but we should remember that, despite the problems encountered in Israel, it is possible for two peoples to coexist peacefully. Also, there are plenty of virtually uninhabited desert areas throughout the world still – even close to Palestine. While it would require some ingenuity and proper application of new technologies such as the construction of desalination plants, the Palestinians could live in these areas.

Economy Building
Erecting skyscrapers is one thing. Transplanting nations is something entirely different. For instance, much of the Palestinian economy relies upon things like olives, and they would not be able to simply transplant their olive orchards. All that can be said about these concerns is that, as things currently stand, these orchards will probably be paved over and turned into Israeli subdivisions soon anyway, regardless of what the rest of the world does. One aspect of this effort will certainly consist of the combined efforts of international entities to retrain Palestinians for roles they can fill in their new home, as well as economic policies that will welcome foreign investment into the development.

Encouraging Oppression
It could be that, seeing that foreign powers have provided an attractive way out for Palestinians, the Israeli government would feel justified in escalating its settlement plans to encourage Palestinians to hurry up and leave, making the migration not quite as voluntary as intended. This would be a concern to bear in mind, but probably not a deal-breaker.

Corruption and Violence
One of the great fears associated with creating New Palestine would be that Hamas and other such groups would be transplanted there along with the Palestinian people at large, leading to an empowerment of terrorist activities and the possibility that they could hijack the government. However, there are a few forces that could limit their power:

  • Public sentiment would not have the same tendency to fall in line behind terrorist groups because much of the impetus would be gone. Without the need to fight for independence, without Israeli bulldozers turning neighborhoods to rubble, and with a presumable increase in economic opportunities and personal freedoms, your average Palestinian would feel much less disposed to go blow himself up.
  • A foreign power could be put in charge of an interim government for a prescribed amount of time, helping to transition into representative government without any militant groups exerting undue influence.
  • Oaths of allegiance could be required of all individuals seeking citizenship, including a requirement that they disavow such groups.

Raising the Funds
The money for such a project could come from a number of sources, both as donations and investments. A single entity could be created to receive the funds, with donors and investors being governments, corporations, non-profit groups, and individuals. One option would be to carry out a public bond issuance to cover all or part of the main portion of costs, but this would be a massive undertaking indeed. For instance, the total national debt of Pakistan, a country of 180 million inhabitants, is around $283 billion. Unless the development of New Palestine were to immediately trigger a massive inflow of foreign direct investment such that tax revenues could quickly be used to service the bond debt, most of the cost would probably have to be covered by charitable donations. One option for making bonds a significant source of funds, though, would be to get a consortium of nations to agree to guarantee the bonds. This would be difficult of course, but not impossible.

Location
Perhaps the trickiest aspect of the New Palestine proposition would be the matter of location. No nation is likely to happily relinquish sovereignty over any of its land – even desert land – for the creation of a new state. However, the massive economic investment that the project would require could prove beneficial to any neighboring country, as it would immediately result in a new market for trade just next door. It may be that a number of countries would be willing to part with a relatively small parcel of unwanted desert land (about 10,000 square miles) for a reasonable price with the hope of spillover from the massive international investment going into New Palestine. Allowing the donor nation to maintain a certain percentage of mineral rights could be a reasonable bit of gravy for the deal.

Of course, it seems a prohibitively massive undertaking. However, this does not necessarily make it a foolish or impossible one. At one point, someone stood before the Emperor of China and said: “Let’s repel invaders by building a wall across our entire northern border!” The idea of a human being setting foot on the moon, while often entertained in fiction, probably seemed utterly ludicrous – centuries away – in 1959. While an undertaking such as this would certainly involve trials that cannot even be foreseen let alone planned for, the money can be made available, the technology is already in use, and the need for action is apparent. Our question, then, is this: How much is peace worth to us?