The Establishment Left went into full meltdown over President Trump’s unceremonious withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords, which Barack Obama had signed with such fanfare. Naturally, former Vice President Al Gore weighed in, calling the move a “reckless and indefensible action.” Hillary called it an “historic mistake.” Leonardo DiCaprio said it was “careless.” And, in oft-repeated tones now losing their impact, Mark Hertsgaard in the Nation described the president’s decision as a “crime against humanity.”
The Paris Accords, of course, have numerous defects that have been well described by others. It’s expensive. It won’t significantly slow down the growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide. It would require a massive transfer of wealth from the First World to the Third World.
And it rests on a shaky foundation. The notion of manmade global warming, while trumpeted in the media as the consensus of science, is unscientific in many important respects. Real science involves experiments, predictions, and falsifiable hypotheses. Global warming theory, by contrast, involves extrapolations from computer models that have had a dismal record of predicting near-future events, let alone what may happen in 100 years. Indeed, this failure to make accurate predictions is now so pronounced that the meaningless term “climate change” has replaced “global warming,” because the last decade’s predicted rise in temperature has failed to materialize.
Climate, of course, has changed much in the past, with several ice ages followed by warming periods, both before and during man’s existence on this planet. The data on which global warming models are based has been entangled with numerous flaws, when they were not outright fraudulent. At the same time, the role of the sun, the oceans, and various unknowns remain mysteries to a great extent.
What is most curious, though, is what is most taken for granted: the association of the political Left and “climate change” hysteria. After all, the Left now prefers the term “progressive,” and progressivism is fundamentally an optimistic attitude about change. The simplest explanation for the Left’s enthusiasm, of course, is that modern environmentalism is driven by Left-wing hostility to technology and capitalism, and a desire to undo the West’s preeminence in the same. A feature, not a bug, of most climate change policies is empowering international institutions and the West’s Third World competitors.
At the heart of climate change rhetoric one finds a salutary impulse: taking steps in the present to prevent an avoidable disaster in the future. This represents the theme of Cassandras from time immemorial, whether Edmund Burke’s prediction of the tragedy of the French Revolution or Enoch Powell’s prescient warning of mass immigration in his “rivers of blood” speech. Indeed, one may consider this wariness of irreversible and immoderate change the most fundamental conservative instinct.
Not long ago, it was conservatives who criticized the mania for industrialization and championed conservation. Richard Weaver famously wrote in Ideas Have Consequences:
It is a matter of elementary observation that nature reflects some kind of order which was here before our time and which, even after atomic fission, defies our effort at total comprehension. . . We get increasing evidence under the regime of science that to meddle with small parts of a machine whose total design and purpose we are ignorant produces evil consequences.
What is undeniable and completely illogical is that those on the Left concerned about our impact on the globe 100 years hence and counseling against air conditioners and styrofoam cups do not share this concern in other more immediate matters with more tangible impact.
Whether the subject is family relations, sexual mores, or multiculturalism, the Left has no fear of change whatsoever, even though many more civilizations have disappeared through corruption, decadence, and hostile invaders than have through a small variance in the thermometer.
While the earth seems to host life on its most inhospitable corners even after great natural disasters, cultures and nations have proven to be more delicate things. Many civilizations who have failed to adapt have disappeared, either through genocide or incorporation into a more organized competitor. Much of the ordinary work of civilization takes place not through government and force, but through custom. Our expectations, habits, taboos, and assumptions are the product of tradition and folkways. These are taught and retaught among a people, and through them a people acquires a sense of common loyalty, common destiny, and common symbols of good and evil.
As Burke wrote:
The legislators who framed the ancient republics knew that their business was too arduous to be accomplished with no better apparatus than the metaphysics of an undergraduate, and the mathematics and arithmetic of an exciseman. They had to do with men, and they were obliged to study human nature. They had to do with citizens, and they were obliged to study the effects of those habits which are communicated by the circumstances of civil life. They were sensible that the operation of this second nature on the first produced a new combination; and thence arose many diversities amongst men, according to their birth, their education, their professions, the periods of their lives, their residence in towns or in the country, their several ways of acquiring and of fixing property, and according to the quality of the property itself—all which rendered them as it were so many different species of animals.
Historically, American culture and people were Christian and European, and specifically English. Things like the jury system, limited government, the nuclear family structure, our entrepreneurial spirit, notions of fair play, our self-reliant individualism, disdain for nepotism, and distaste for corruption were perfectly natural and widely held beliefs. Conservatives, protective over this highly integrated whole, were wary of the changes that occurred over past 50 years. This had much to do with opposition to the earlier sexual and divorce revolution of the 1970s and their handmaiden, the welfare state. Combined, these phenomena entailed many harms, as well documented by Charles Murray in Coming Apart. But before that damage could be repaired, court-ordered gay marriage came along, and only a few short years later, the mania for transsexualism, even among very young children. Simultaneously, we see an embrace between the Left and Islam, an austere and politicized religion that harbors little tolerance for ordinary Christianity, let alone the post-Christian hedonism promoted by the Left.
What the fruits of all this experimentation will be, no one can say, but what can be said for sure is that a moral consensus centuries in the making has disappeared on a great many subjects.
If burning coal and natural gas were enough to send the planet over the edge, one would think the same spirit of caution would animate tinkering with things like gender roles, women in combat, the introduction of Muslims into Christian societies, and much else. But in these matters the, Left, which superficially embraces a spirit of cautious stewardship in the realm of the atmosphere, embraces that of mad scientist in the moral sphere.
While I am a “global warming” skeptic, I consider it possible that fossil fuel use is doing preventable damage to the earth. I would also say that what can and should be done if that were true is a subject on which reasonable people can disagree. But what is thoroughly unserious and contradictory is the cavalier attitude the Left has brought to bear on our moral environment, when it remains so solicitous of the physical environment.
Man is, above all, a creature of habit, culture, and tradition. From the most universal—thou shall not steal—to the most culturally specific—thou shalt not litter, fail to tip (at least) 15 percent, or wear white after Labor Day—the creation and existence of pleasant, functioning, and safe communities depends on various prejudices and habits, many of which are not easily justifiable on the basis of immutable first principles, and many of which are hard to recover if they are overwhelmed by baser instincts and alternatives.
The Revolutionaries of 1789 France, like the climate change vanguard, imagined themselves to be applying scientific rationality to practical politics. It was the age of Diderot, the metric system, and the Encyclopédie. They ran roughshod over ancient boundaries and purported to reorganize society on scientific principles. They disdained tradition as a useless artifact that failed to conform to their a priori theories. And, since this change did so much violence to the preexisting order, they faced massive resistance, engaged in massive blood-letting, and ushered in a century of internal instability.
While “climate change” may be inevitable, a prudent concern for the future is fundamentally conservative. But man’s flourishing varies more by his culture and laws and countrymen, than by his physical environment.
Even now the basic contours of American life remain intact from “sea to shining sea.” But the introduction of a few tens of millions of hostile aliens, or alien customs in our domestic family life, portends far more trouble today and tomorrow than anything going on in the atmosphere.