Foreign Policy, Isolationism and Libertarianism (and global warming)
I have often heard libertarians
denounce American involvement in most or all wars of this century.
Of course, elsewhere on this site and in my books I have argued against compulsory conscription as against at least the spirit of fundamental rights (and I’ve tied these arguments to the gays-in-the-military issue).
We have also, in more recent
decades, involved ourselves in the affairs of other countries partly to protect
our access to natural energy resources, especially oil, as with the Persian
Gulf War in 1991 to drive Saddam Hussein out of
We have also engaged in some areas (Kosovo) out of complete disgust for the violence against human rights going on there and out of a sort of nouveau-domino theory.
In the year 2000, the most urgent
problem may be the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as we seem to be back to where
we were before the famous Begin-Sadat summit at
Even as late as the second gasoline shortage, in 1979 in the wake of the Iran hostage crisis, “experts” were predicting that the world would soon run out of oil, at least in areas politically controllable by the West. This has turned out to be wrong; the prospective longevity of our raw materials for energy is much more than had been predicted. Oil shale projects, for example, were cancelled as oil prices plummeted during the Reagan administration.
So letting the “experts” predict a trend like global warming sounds to me like a dubious proposition. But as so often the case, the opposing arguments sail past one another. It is true that over millennia there is great natural variation on earth’s climate. We’ve had “little ice ages” and warm spells before. The last great ice age was receding only 10,000 years ago. Over any long time period, natural processes may well overshadow human effects.
the “unpredictability” of climate was dramatized in the May 2000 ABC Circle
movie Ice. Yup, the movie wasn’t really too good. It starts with May Day
temperatures in the mid 30’s in L.A and snow in
of course it is possible that increased carbon dioxide emissions from human
activity could increase earth’s temperature up to something like 10 degrees F.
over what it would have been, in a century.
For many people, especially those in low-lying areas, this would be
catastrophic. We won’t turn into a Venus (its catastrophe took only about 500
million years and there really may have been water oceans there a couple
billion years ago), but there are legitimate reasons, according to the
scientists, to become concerned. I can remember growing up in the 50’s in the
indeed, in some cases the effects of human activity are proved.
Chlorofluorocarbons have created ozone layer holes, increasing melanoma, and
resulting in international cooperation to stop using them. So far, technology
has found decent replacements, although inhalants for asthma, for example, may
be less reliable. With freedom, technology has indeed produced much cleaner
cars and factories (remember the smog from steel mills in the 50’s and in the
Communist world for decades). But it is not surprising that on the
international level politicians will call for “shared sacrifices” to forestall
what at least now appears to be an unacceptable risk of gradual global
calamity. And, guess who the bad guys
are made out to be: the western world, especially the
no mistake about it, the treaties we sign could upend
our best libertarian intentions at reducing government intervention into
personal lives. We must ultimately honor these treaties. Think about
it—throughout history, countries and factions have gone to war over perceived
limits on natural resources, and we could interpret the Persian Gulf War over
But what follows, of course, is then the self-righteous attempt to preach guilt and sacrifice. It would start at the group level—the rich are consuming resources and exploiting the poor, because of the “profit” motive, and I’ve seen plenty of socialist writings like this already. Minorities will be disproportionately affected. But it can become much more personal. Sacrifice, after all, can be based on lifestyle—whether one has children, is married, or has other dependents. And it isn’t hard to see that this will give gays and lesbians all the more reason to demand “equality” in marriage laws.
But let’s say that freedom works and, short of an alien attack like in V or Childhood’s End, we don’t go down that path.
David Riggs, “Global Warming: Divided Science and Unfounded Policy,” American Experiment Quarterly, Summer 1998.
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