Over the transom today came a link (thank you, Bill K.) to Diplomad’s latest salvo: At War with the History of Mankind.
Dip makes the point that a central tenet of modern Leftist ideology (which is, as I and others have argued at length, essentially a cryptoreligious belief-system) is to make Nature sacred, and mankind profane (my words, not his, but the idea is the same). He notes that this is, in humanist terms, a noxious perversion:
Above all else, the history of mankind is one of struggle against nature, against Gaia. Wearing clothing, seeking shelter, hunting animals, creating agriculture, building cities, developing medicines, and devising public health schemes, among others, are all efforts by mankind to defeat nature and, yes, to overcome Gaia — a murderous entity if ever one existed.
Quite so. Modern environmentalism, in its ostentatious self-abnegation before the Sacred, differs only in style from medieval self-flagellation: it seeks grace and salvation through flamboyant gestures of atonement. (While we’re on the subject, white ethnomasochism is another fine example: as Lawrence Auster noted years ago, the sacred objects in that case are ethnic minorities.)
Nowhere is this religiosity, and its quest for martyrdom, more perspicuously self-evident than in the global-warming movement, and its profoundly anti-humanist crusade against fossil fuels. Alex Epstein, the author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (which, if it were up to me, would be required reading for anyone eligible to vote in any Western nation) published a fine piece about this last week in Forbes.
In his essay, Mr. Epstein notes that we seem always to be losing the argument with the Left on what is now called “climate change”, and he explains that this is because, as so often happens, we fail to clarify our axioms. Key excerpts:
In naming an energy or environmental ideal, it is essential to recognize that an energy or environmental ideal is not a primary—it depends on the more fundamental question: What is the overall ideal we should strive for, in energy, environment, and everything else?
My answer is: the overall ideal is to maximize human well-being. While most Americans would agree with this ideal if and when it was made explicit, this ideal is almost never made explicit—and it is not driving our energy debate whatsoever. The ideal that is actually driving our debate without being noticed, the ideal that underlies the anti-fossil fuel ideal, is the ideal of minimizing human impact…
To reach the right conclusion on what to do about energy, we need to be clear on our moral goal, our standard of value—and that the right standard of value is maximizing human well-being rather than the environmentalist standard of minimizing human impact. If we look at the big picture, both positives and negatives, of fossil fuels by the standard of maximizing human well-being, we find that short-term and long-term they improve every aspect of life by increasing mankind’s ability to use machines—including our capacity to make a naturally dirty environment far cleaner and our capacity to make a naturally dangerous climate far safer.
If we look at the risks and side-effects of fossil fuel use, we see that they are incomparably smaller than the benefits. This is also true for other forms of cheap, plentiful, reliable energy such as nuclear and hydroelectric. Thus, short-term and long-term, the energy policy ideal is energy liberation…
If the moral case for fossil fuels and energy liberation flows from a humanist standard of value, where does the moral case against fossil fuels and energy liberation flow from?
It flows from one of the most popular moral ideals of our era, the ideal of being “green”—minimizing our impact on the planet. This ideal is completely contrary to human well-being. Despite claims that human beings live on a nurturing but fragile planet that we must tread lightly on to survive, nature does not give us a good standard of living; we need to create it by dramatically impacting—transforming—nature. In doing so, we want to maximize human well-being, which means minimizing human-harming impacts—but we want to make as much impact on the planet as necessary.
When fossil fuels are discussed, the green standard is invariably applied by both Republicans and Democrats. Republicans regularly accept the minimizing impact ideal left and right, whether by accepting “renewable” (vs. life-enhancing) as an ideal—or by obsessing over every exaggeration of our climate impact but spending no time celebrating our climate mastery—or by calling more attention to the birds killed by wind turbines than the people who would be killed if we had to rely on wind turbines.
Both sides agree: the ideal is to find the form of energy that has as little “environmental impact” as possible. This is an application of the green ideal: to minimize our impact on the planet. This must be rejected and replaced with the ideals of human well-being (or human progress) and energy liberation. Those are the real ideals, and those can be used to rapidly win hearts and minds.
Whenever I discuss any energy and environmental issue with anyone, near the very beginning I make sure to ask: “Would you agree that our goal here is to find the policy that will maximize human well-being? Would you agree that we need to look carefully at all the costs and all the benefits to get to the right answer?” It’s often necessary to bring up the non-impact issue explicitly: “Would you agree that to maximize our well-being we need to impact the world in all kinds of ways and that impact is not a bad thing but often a good thing? That we just want to minimize impacts that harm us?”
That reframing may seem simple or go unnoticed, but the resulting framework changes everything.
If we reframe the debate, making our ideals explicit, we can both win supporters and champions of the right policies, and expose the evil and anti-humanism of the wrong policies… Framing the debate with maximizing human well-being as the ideal enables us to better reach the truth—and for that reason it makes it far, far easier to persuade others of the truth—in every issue and sub-issue. When made explicit, this ideal is compelling to the vast majority of people, much more so than the anti-impact ideal (or no ideal). It transforms our view of fossil fuels (and energy liberation) from self-destructive addiction to life-enhancing technology. The person who advocates this ideal conveys deep confidence and obvious sincerity.
Read the whole thing here.
Finally, I also have to give a nod to James Delingpole, who in this related article (which also links to, and quotes, the Epstein essay), gives us a splendidly apt coinage: wind turbines as “eco-crucifixes”.