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World Government, Part I

Is world government necessary to save humanity from itself?

Humankind’s climate change problem is global; there are no protected areas immune to climate change and to the dirtier, hotter, stormier air and rising oceans it brings. World leaders have created numerous international agreements, notably the United Nations 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 2015 Paris Accord approved by some 195 nations, which are intended to reduce world greenhouse gas production and global warming. National compliance with agreed targets has been voluntary, and no effective enforcement mechanisms exist. Despite those efforts, global average temperature continues to rise, a relentless march in which each year this century is hotter than the year before and the hottest since accurate human records began. The consensus judgement of climate scientists is that added heat and accompanying changes in world air and oceans are primarily due to human activities, specifically industrial man’s responsibility for the rise of carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas, from 280 units per million units of air in 1750 to over 400 ppm in 2018. A recent UN report says that there is a “very high risk” that the planet will warm beyond two-degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above 1750’s preindustrial levels, triggering large and unpredictable consequences.

Who are the people, and what are the arguments, challenging the very ideas that human-caused climate change exists, that less-predictable climates are dangerous to humankind, and that we should fight it more aggressively? I suggest five rationales against taking meaningful action to limit human-caused climate change:

1. IT’S FAKE NEWS. Climate change does not exist. Perhaps the attention we give to supposed climate change is, as Donald Trump has said, part of a Chinese conspiracy to weaken the American economy. Like Trump, many Americans reject physical science when the science disagrees with their set ideas, and they resist or ignore facts and arguments which conflict with how things “should” be. Global warming, as Al Gore has said, is an “inconvenient truth,” a truth which is painful for many Americans, so they reject it. The resistance to science is somewhat like a fundamentalist believer’s invulnerable prejudgments; some, for instance, still believe that the Earth was created by a Judeo-Christian god a few thousand years ago, geology and fossils to the contrary. That creation truth is cast in stone against attacks, as is the truth that climate change is a “liberal” lie intended to expand the power of the U.S. federal government. It will probably take heavy beatings by Mother Nature to persuade those folks that climate change is real and a threat to us all.

2. IT’S NATURE. Some acknowledge that the planet has warmed, and that greenhouse gas levels have increased sharply since 1750, but argue that the changes are not man’s fault. It is true that the last 10,000 years has featured unusual climate stability, and that the Earth’s natural records show many earlier periods of heat and cold more severe, and higher CO2 concentrations, than anything civilization has experienced. But greenhouse gases and global heat have risen very fast in recent centuries, like nothing in Earth’s history except when an unusual catastrophe occurs, such as a large asteroid’s hitting the planet. There is no reasonable explanation for the rapid heat and greenhouse gas changes since modern industrialization began except homo sapiens’ burning ever-greater amounts of hydrocarbons and putting other stresses on the Earth’s natural systems. Despite all the scientific evidence, many deny, and will continue to deny, that human-caused climate change exists because of their economic interests, their hatred of a greater role for government, ignorance, religious conviction, stubbornness, conformity to others’ opinions or other. Changing those minds will also require Mother Nature’s unambiguous, persistent force.

3. IT’S TOO HARD. Americans produce a disproportionate share of the world’s greenhouse gasses on a per capita basis: with only four percent of the planet’s present population, our industrial civilization has still produced about a quarter of the total world rise in CO2 since 1750. That large gap is a function of our economy’s unprecedented productivity, which has created a high standard of living and the world’s most powerful military. In recent years America’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions from energy production has shrunk from 24 percent in 1990 to 16 percent in 2015 for two reasons: America has become more energy efficient, and the rest of the world has become more energy intensive. China’s share of world greenhouse emissions increased from 11 percent in 1990 to 27 percent in 2018 as its economy exploded, but Chinese per capita emissions are still way below American emissions, which have increased more slowly. The United States is therefore a logical first target for world pollution reduction, but there is a reasonable argument that enforced restrictions would be futile because they would overwhelmed by skyrocketing greenhouse gas production in China, India and other rapidly developing economies. Politically, it would be hard to convince Americans to cut back consumption of hydrocarbons burned in their automobiles and residencies, if such efforts would be overwhelmed by economic growth and higher consumption levels abroad. On the flip side, it is difficult to persuade leaders in less-developed economies they they should take steps against global warming when their citizens’ per capita consumption is so much less than in the United States.

4. IT’S TOO EXPENSIVE. It is human instinct to discount future, uncertain events. When a farmer cuts down a tropical rain forest to plant crops for his family, he probably ignores the longterm effects of his destroying a piece of the “planet’s lungs.” Humphrey Bogart asked in one of his films, “Do I look like a guy who cares what happens after I’m dead?” No, but we have economists who use rational, personally-detached, cost-benefit analysis to weigh present costs against hypothesized future benefits. Unfortunately the extent of future benefits in such analyses is always uncertain while present costs are more easily quantified. The gap makes scientific analysis politically more vulnerable, since elected politicians naturally emphasize immediate, certain benefits to their reelection chances over speculative, longterm consequences. Climate scientists have told us for decades that unwise consumption and resulting pollution of land, air and sea is leading to planetary disaster, but politicians have generally ignored or discounted climate science. Meaningful political actions to limit climate change, such as very high taxes on greenhouse gas emissions, are critical, but steps in that direction are rejected on the grounds that they cost voters money and will slow economic growth. Continuing economic growth is a sacred cow in most societies, even though it is a primary engine of global warming, along with human populations which exceed nature’s carrying capacities. We have an unquestioned assumption that economic growth can continue indefinitely on our finite planet, and challenging that assumption is difficult for any politician.

5. IT’S TOO LATE. The one degree Celsius warming Earth has experienced in recent centuries has produced feedback loops which would continue even if humankind stopped emitting greenhouse gases. The observed shrinking of sun-reflecting Arctic ice cover is a prime example – more heat melts more polar ice, which exposes more ocean and more land to the sun’s heat, which releases huge amounts of fossil methane, that very powerful greenhouse gas then produces more warming and more ice cover melting, and the loop continues. So our motto might be enjoy what we have now, and leave the future to emerge as it will.

to be continued.


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