Archive for November, 2010

The Mid-Term Elections or America’s endorsement of ignorance

November 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I believe I’ve grown up and lived in a rather remarkable country.  I believe for the most part its results and influence have been positive ones in the world. It would be somewhat silly for me to think though that I deserve some sort of respect or credit for those — those were accomplished by the generations before, I have just been the lucky recipient of circumstances, the accident of my birth. And I suppose now I have to wonder what will this generation, my generation of the United States of America, will be remembered for.

So 2 years ago, the United States elected Barack Obama as its president as well as Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature.  They arrived in Washington at an uneasy time, one nearly as uneasy as that which greeted the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the House and Senate of 1932. The economy was a mess after an economic bubble popped, an economic bubble that had been formed from deregulation of the financial industry. Our American fascination and sometimes near-worship of unencumbered free markets. Which is remarkable when we know the history of nearly unregulated free markets, what economic results we’ve had — bubble booms with eventual collapse; what ecological results we’ve had — pollutants spewed into the environment because there was no real way for an unregulated free market to bring the full cost of production into the power of the consumers’ decisions. Yet we still have a large segment of the population who can be fed buzzwords of liberty and economic freedom like those are words more powerful than abracadabra.

But let’s go back again to what I mentioned above, about environmental impact and how that cost doesn’t get accounted for in unregulated free markets.

If you’re my age, around 40 years old, do you remember acid rain? At first, the slow acidification of rain caused by sulfur dioxide emissions from industry was unseen. Then when its effects began to show up and scientists began documenting them, at first industry denied what the evidence and scientists began to demonstrate were the causes of acid rain. How the heck is a consumer’s choice going to effectively counterbalance the concentrated monetary interests of industry like that? It is naive to believe that unregulated free market is going to be able correct itself effectively, with enough rapidity, to make a needed difference.

Do you know how acid rain got curtailed? Cap and trade. Yes, cap and trade, that which a certain portion of the American political body reviles as being anti-liberty, anti-economic freedom, as being horrible government intrusion upon the free markets. It’s a funny thing, considering just how market-based the cap and trade idea is. It creates a market to push things along towards a necessary solution that a free market in isolation to itself cannot find.

This is one of the purposes of goverment. It is one of the Constitutional purposes of American goverment — “promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,”. Posterity.  Our Constitution speaks not just of individual liberty, but of providing it successively to our descending generations.  Our Constitution speaks not just of individual liberty, but of general welfare. It is naive to believe that general welfare is secured perfectly by unregulated free markets. If we had let unregulated free markets handle solving acid rain, we could have seen the deforestation of large areas of New England and eastern Canada. But unfortunately for those who are so enamored with economic liberty, that raving commie Ronald Reagan  used the cap and trade idea to remove lead from gasoline, and then his successor George Bush built upon that success by using cap and trade to fix acid rain.

That’s what happens when you let commie socialists like Reagan and Bush mess with the free markets.

But you want to know something? Compared to fixing leaded gasoline and acid rain, the United States genuinely faces something which could be many magnitudes greater in scope and cost than those.  It is climate change or anthropogenic global warming. And it is here that I will now explain my title for this post — in the 2010 elections, Americans elected a large number of climate change denialists to Congress.  As a result of this, the House committees responsible for Energy and Commerce, Science and Technology, will now be led by Republican representatives who somehow believe they understand evidence and science better than the overwhelming scientific consensus on the subject — that the planet is warming up, and that it is warming up because of human activity and industry.

It appears that the years of the American rightwing’s pandering to those who celebrate ignorance of reality has come to fruition. The American people have elected a large body of representatives who think that reality can be what we can close our eyes and wish for. Who think that reality can be best described by someone like Lord Monckton, the man who was the man the GOP called upon to testify before Congress about climate change.

America’s worship of unregulated free markets has resulted in this. We deny that there is a growing problem because a certain portion of the population has this belief they consider sacred and unassailable — that the free market is best left alone. It has been further exacerbated by another pernicious meme — that government is always a problem, that government never gets anything right.  And that is bullshit. Government is not perfect, but it is best suited in many ways to build infrastructure, like interstate highways,  which is then infrastructure that free markets can use to expand their wealth.  Government is not perfect, but is the best market regulator for big issues with costs that are hidden or distant from the immediate consumer, issues like lead in gasoline and acid rain. And climate change.  But this unholy pairing of free market worship and belief that government can’t do anything has brought us to this point.  A point where our government may fail in its Constitutional mandate to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to us and our posterity. To our children’s posterity.  But here in America, we’ve forgotten that and now have elected ignorance in as our leaders.

If you interested in learning more, I highly recommend Climate Denial Crock of the Week and that person’s Youtube channel. Also recommended for understanding the economic interests is The Manufactured Doubt Industry by Jeff Masters and The Rough Guide to Climate Change.

It’s time for this country to stop one-sidedly thinking that free markets are perfect solutions for everything, and start remembering the idea of general welfare. Individual liberty is best preserved when the general welfare is secured as well. You can also see this idea echoed in how military officers such as Rear Admiral David Titley have come to see what risks continued global warming poses for the security of nations in the future. Men such as Titley cannot be dismissed as leftist wild-eyed hippie environmental whackos, Titley is someone whose interest is in having good data supplied to him so he and others in military command can make sound strategic decisions and plans to present and future threats.  Keep that in mind any time you read or hear someone dismiss global warming as some sort of leftist conspiracy meant to topple capitalism. Titley listened and studied the information provided to him and has found it reasonable to use the scientific consensus on climate change. Or I guess he’s just some sort of communist dupe.

I wonder sometimes what’s happened with the political right of America. I believe there are some good ideas in American conservatism. I too would like to see some better fiscal management of government funds. But why is there this prominent streak of attacking scientists as seen in such things as global warming denial and creationism (if you are familiar with the debates between evolution and creationism, but not climate change, but then begin to look at climate change, you too will likely see, as I did, the astonishing parallels in argument quality used by climate denialists and creationists).

I have sometimes voted for Republicans, but now know that before I might cast a vote for a Republican again, I would want to know if they are going to accept the science of climate change and work to craft legislation that will protect the general welfare of this country, of the country’s future generations, of the world that we inhabit along with our neighbors and not so distant neighbors and those countries halfway around the world like Bangladesh who if sea levels continue to rise, will caused the displacement of a huge number of people and create more misery, more instability. More misery and instability all stemming from a selfish motivation to “protect economic freedom and liberty” and from a willful ignorance. Willful ignorance is not healthy skepticism although that’s what the ignorant like to portray it as.