Just when we thought the issues at the media’s forefront were of vital importance, President Obama pulls another issue from the sludge and flings it into the news. While headlines lately detail Edward Snowden’s hidden trek to diplomatic safety, the immigration bill, George Zimmerman’s trial, and a several Supreme Court decisions, President Obama decided to make climate change an issue again. Further examination of President Obama’s proposed climate change policy shows it as unjust and wrong.
In his recent speech, President Obama discussed the “problem” of climate change as if it’s a rogue nation, menacing the globe, and our nation must prepare to attack. He appealed to a bi-partisan sentiment, noting that both Republicans and Democrats voted for the Clean Air Act. His plan of action involves “changing the way we use energy.” This fuzzy directive entails further regulating America’s energy power plants and introducing new regulations. He refuted free market objections—such as the new regulations would negatively affect jobs and the economy—by asserting that commentators have wrongly repeated the same objections throughout the decades. Finally, President Obama noted, “The problem with all these tired excuses for inaction is that it suggests a fundamental lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity.” He goes on to argue that America can have both the green dream and a booming economy.
We find many issues with President Obama’s “solution” to the problem. On one level, why does this matter at the moment? Let us consider what else concerns the United States. At home the economy continues to get worse, with more Americans feeling economically strangled while the Federal Reserve continues building upon its shaky monetary foundation, ensuring a collapse. We also face the fact, partly due to Edward Snowden’s leaks, that our government hurtles the country closer to a police state, even opening the door to a prison state. And, our politicians grapple with the ignored Southern border’s fruits: an immigration bill. Abroad, the American government continues sending aid to Islamist rebels in Syria, and the apparently futile Afghan war persists. Should climate change really be at the forefront now? Perhaps we witness not an honest priority shift, but another diversion hallmark of Obama’s presidency.
One matter needs clearing up before we analyze the matter at hand. I am not a scientist. I study philosophy, German, and creative writing. During this examination, I will not address climate change’s scientific aspects. In making the scientific argument, I would only bring up points I could add little perspective on. Rather, we shall analyze ideas.
Obama’s stance on climate change evidences a belief in its grave danger. Regardless of its danger, it is his approach and philosophy of dealing with this danger that interests us. Obama’s approach echoes an attitude reminiscent of many scientists. An example of this is Carl Sagan. Though Sagan was an admirable and highly intelligent man, creating one of television’s greatest documentaries, he too feel prey for the technocratic-leaning viewpoint. In Cosmos’s first episode (aired in 1980), Sagan said, “I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this cosmos. In which we float, like a mode of dust, in the morning sky.” Other scientists, including Stephen Hawking, have expressed similar sentiments. (Hawking even once noted that “we” as a species must leave earth soon.) Again, these men are admirable for their intelligence and work, but they take an entirely pragmatic plan against these “dangers.”
Perhaps the skeptics are wrong and the globe shall soon experience massive flooding, droughts, little ice ages, and other blights. Perhaps massive asteroids shall slam into earth or some other cosmic phenomena might condemn humanity to misery and extinction. Closer to most humans’ lives, we find other sources of danger. Thieves, murderers, criminal gangs, and terrorists constitute most the violent possibilities present in most peoples’ minds. Even if a government, as powerful as possible, took measures to prevent these dangers, the possibilities would persist. Why? Men are not gods. Even removing free will, and transplanting the situation back to questions of nature and the universe, mankind’s actual control appears minute.
But let us think about this from another aspect. The government’s regulating the environment rests upon its powers to use force. Although conservative and libertarian thought provides moral guidance on this topic (i.e. force is only legitimate when used in defense of property or self), we find ourselves in a moral quandary. Removing the science, suppose that all life on this pale blue dot face extinction from climate change. Is violating a fundamental moral principle acceptable in this case, considering that all of humanity is at stake?
Many do not view the problem in this manner. Rather, they view it from a utilitarian perspective. President Obama does not explicitly paint his climate change policy as utilitarian, but we infer utilitarianism from his speech. Simply put, utilitarianism is the philosophical stance that concerns itself with achieving collective happiness, rather than focusing on the individual. In addressing this school of thought, we often invoke several philosophical problems. One of the most common involves a runaway train, a group of workers, and a man. Suppose that a train’s crew lost control, and the train speeds down the tracks, towards a group of workers. In front of you is a switch. By flipping the switch, you will send the train on another track, towards the lone man. Warning the lone man is impossible. Utilitarians advocate for flipping the switch and killing the one man to save the others’ lives. There are some variations on this thought experiment, but the question remains.
We currently stand beside the train tracks. Some scream warnings, saying that the train approaches us, flying down the tracks. They claim that the train will kill us all, and we must flip the switch. Practically, we do not know whether this train even exists, but we cannot neglect the moral and philosophical question. Government, resting upon its monopoly of force, cannot immorally use that force, even if it is to “save the world.” For, what do these principles mean if we willingly destroy them in order to, supposedly, survive?