Archive for January 2010

Dr. William Gray and Dr. Kevin Trenberth Debate Global Warming — Part 2

January 30th, 2010 — 8:12pm

Editor’s Note: this is Part 2 of a two-part debate. Read Part 1 here.

Part 2 — The Debate Rages On:

Dr. William Gray

We Are Not In Climate Crisis

Dr. Gray’s rebuttal to Dr. Trenberth:

Kevin Trenberth has given the standard response that human-induced global warming advocates always give to their critics. He cites the large number of people and the broad effort involved in the last 15 years of IPCC reports, which have shown little variation in their expectations of large amounts of human-induced temperature rise during the rest of the 21st century. He also cites the recognition of the IPCC warming advocates’ views through their award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Peace Prize Award is a political judgment award and is thus different from the traditional Nobel scientific awards. The Peace Award is not based on the usual verifiable scientific standards of the Nobel awards for chemistry, physics, medicine, etc.

I will respond to 10 statements which Trenberth has made in his rebuttal to my initial comments.His statements are given in quotations and my response.

1. “The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to show that specific global and regional changes resulting from global warming are already upon us. The future projections are for much more warming, but with rates of change perhaps a hundred times as fast as those experienced in nature over the past 10,000 years.” It is by no means clear that the global warming we have experienced over the last 30 and last 100 years is due primarily to human-induced CO2 rises. The globe experienced many natural temperature changes before the Industrial Revolution. How do we know the recent warming is not due to one or a combination of many natural changes that were experienced in the past? There is no way Dr. Trenberth or anybody else can, with any degree of confidence, say that future global warming may be a hundred times faster than anything we have seen in the past. This is pure conjecture.

2. “I don’t know anyone who has so profited” (from the warming scare) Millions of dollars in federal grants and private money have been spent on the study of global warming. It is in the interest of thousands of committed warming advocates that the global warming threat be made credible and be continued.

3. “Open discussion based on sound science is widely encouraged.” Discussion with global warming skeptics has not at all been encouraged. Most skeptics have been ignored and/or denigrated as tools of the fossil-fuel industry. Dr. Trenberth himself has said that I myself am no longer a credible scientist because I doubt the human-induced warming hypothesis. I know of no conferences that have encouraged an open and honest debate between warming advocates and warming skeptics. It has been difficult for warming skeptics to obtain federal research grant support. The warming advocates define “sound science” as science that agrees with them, and they restrict it to only this.

4. “But they (GCMs) are by far the best tool we have for examining the enormously complex weather and climate system, and to replace model results by someone’s belief that has no physical basis does not cut it.” Being the best tool we have does not mean we should necessarily believe the GCMs. I and many of my warming skeptic colleagues do not put much stock in the GCMs. These models have a number of basic flaws. To wit: important sub-grid scale processes such as individual thunderstorm activity are parameterized. I have previously noted that the GCMs don’t issue public forecasts of global temperature one or two-five years in the future because they know they do not have skill at these shorter range time scales. They would lose credibility if they publicly made forecasts that could be verified. Yet the models want us all to believe their forecasts 50-100 years in the future!

5. “I have found that the only scientists who disagree with the IPCC report are those who have not read it and are poorly informed.” This is simply untrue. Thousands of scientists from around the globe who have closely followed the IPCC statements believe that they have grossly exaggerated the influence of CO2 rises on global warming. The IPCC has largely ignored the potential natural processes of global-temperature change, such as the deep ocean current changes. The IPCC continues to assume a positive rain-enhanced water vapor feedback loop when the observations indicate it is slightly negative. There has recently been a coming together of 400 prominent climate scientists from around the globe who have written an open letter to the Secretary General of the UN which voices strong disagreement with the IPCC’s warming conclusions.

6. “The IPCC process is very open.” Not true. The IPCC has not been open. Known warming skeptics have not been invited to participate. Despite my 50-plus years of meteorology experience and 25 years of making seasonal hurricane forecasts I was never approached by the IPCC. This also applies to many of my older experienced meteorology colleagues who tell me they have never been contacted by the IPCC. In general, any climate or meteorological colleague who had previously tipped his hand concerning skepticism about human-induced global warming was not invited to participate in the IPCC process.

7. “The strength of the IPCC report is that it is a consensus report. Far from being a ‘gross exaggeration’ as claimed by Gray, the IPCC report is really solid and conservative.” Kevin Trenberth has been a long-term major player in the IPCC process, and it is to be expected that he views his and his many IPCC colleagues efforts in this way. But there are thousands of experienced climate and meteorology experts who, for very solid reasons, see it otherwise. In science, the majority or the consensus can be and is often wrong. In addition to which, much of the uncertainty included in the actual IPCC report is removed in the Summary for Policymakers (SPMs). Very few individuals (and especially politicians) ever read material beyond the SPM.

8. “As Americans, we should be outraged that the Chinese are dumping huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.” Why should we Americans, with our elevated standard of living, be outraged at the Chinese for trying to elevate their standard of living from the poverty they have had to endure for so long?

9. “And we should be outraged that our politicians have not represented us well in that way. By the same token, the Chinese ought to be just as outraged that Americans are putting about as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.” This statement shows how Trenberth (and the warming advocates in general) have isolated themselves from the economic reality of the global economy. Being “outraged” in Dr. Trenberth’s context means that you believe rising levels of CO2 have been the primary cause of global temperature rise, and that this will continue in the future. I and many of my colleagues do not believe this to be true. We owe our industrial society and elevated standard of living to fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have won out over other energy sources because they are the most economic and the most efficient form of energy. We need to maintain a vibrant growing economy so that we can afford a large commitment to research alternate energy sources. This will entail emitting higher amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. To cut fossil-fuel use so drastically would cause a global upheaval beyond anything Dr. Trenberth imagines. It would also create extreme economic hardship and, at the same time, do virtually nothing to alter global temperatures, as no less than global-warming alarmist Dr. Jim Hansen recently admitted in a court of law. It would keep the non-developed and developing world in a state of grinding poverty. In addition, studies have shown that full adoption of, for example, the proposed Kyoto Protocol would reduce warming only six percent by 2100 compared to “business-as-usual.”

10. “If done in the right way, benefits to the climate through reduced emissions save energy and promote the\ economy, while increasing sustainability.” This is a pie-in-the-sky pipedream. “Done the right way”? How so, precisely? By subverting the most fundamental economic laws, like cost effectiveness, and supply and demand? If the globe were to reduce current CO2 amounts by 20 percent by 2020, and by 80 percent by 2050, as has been proposed, we would see a massive slowdown in global economic development, and the condition of humanity would immediately be made worse. Additionally, there would no longer be the capital – i.e. venture capital – in the economy with which to explore and develop new forms of energy. Technology and progress require money. If something is economically viable, government doesn’t need to subsidize it, or make its use compulsory: the market will naturally provide for it because it is cost-effective. The idea that society would prosper from cutting fossil fuel emissions is an utter illusion. Alternate energy sources are more costly right now, and their compulsory use will only lead to a lower standard of human living – to say nothing of the fact that this sort of governmental coercion is Constitutionally prohibited.


Global Warming: Coming Ready Or Not

Dr. Kevin Trenberth

Dr. Trenberth’s rebuttal to Dr. Gray’s response:

I will let the Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC stand on its own merits. Responses to Bill Gray’s other comments follow by number.

1. Natural variability does not happen by magic. The energy for warming has to come from somewhere. Ice Ages come and go but have causes associated with changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun, proving that such natural variability has a cause. El Niño is an example of natural variability associated with rearranging heat by ocean currents and we can track where the heat in the warm regions has come from. Similarly, surface ocean warming might occur if the deep ocean cools as currents redistribute heat. Instead we know that the whole ocean is warming and sea level is rising at unprecedented rates. The pattern of observed warming is unlike any natural variation and the rates of change are faster. Hence we can prove that the observed warming is not natural and we can point to the cause: observed increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that trap infrared radiation from escaping to space.

2. Grants to scientists to understand climate are not synonymous with studying global warming. Moreover studying how and why our planet is warming is actually important – or we could not answer silly beliefs that claim otherwise. A grant is to carry out prescribed work and is very different than a gift to an individual to do what one likes with.

3. Conferences and discussions about warming, climate models, and what, if anything, to do about it occur all the time. However, a scientific approach takes evidence into account. Beliefs that are not consistent with evidence discredit the person who continues with them, and such a person is less likely to be invited to participate in the events.

4. It has been said that “all models are wrong, some are useful.” We think it is better to use models demonstrated to have skill. Today’s best climate models are now able to reproduce the observed major climate changes of the past century. When the models are run without human changes in the atmosphere, the natural forcings and intrinsic natural variability fail to capture the increase in global surface temperature over the past 35 years or so. But when the anthropogenic effects are included, the models simulate the observed global temperature record with impressive fidelity. Observed changes in storms and precipitation are also replicated only by models with human changes in atmospheric composition.

5. I stand by my comment. It is not correct that IPCC assumes anything of the sort claimed. Whether the 400 scientists have any climate credentials or are prominent I leave to others. I wonder if they have collectively published as many climate papers as I have?

6. Open invitations to review the IPCC drafts are widely broadcast. I am sorry Bill was not personally invited. He would obviously be very surprised if I named all the skeptics who have participated in IPCC.

7. Language in the Summary for Policy Makers is not technical by design but calibrated language expressing confidence and likelihoods is included. The IPCC reports are widely used as reference works and have thousands of citations.

8. I agree that an increased standard of living is a fine goal. However, acceptable ways to achieve that goal do not include short-term gains at the expense of long-term disaster.

9. Fossil fuels have won out in part because much of their true cost is not borne by the user, but rather the air pollution and environmental damage is borne by all. We need a sustainable economy that serves the people, not one that continues to grow for its own sake and which damages the environment. The right way refers especially to the timetable over which changes are implemented along with appropriate incentives and penalties. The average life of a car is 12 years in the United States and so a fleet of cars can be changed on that timeframe. Changing coal-fired power stations takes the order of their typical lifetime: 35 to 40 years. How is it that, unlike other states, California since 1973 has continued to grow without increasing energy use per capita? Conservation and reducing waste through very practical measures works, as is demonstrated by differences among states and countries with similar standards of living but very different per capita energy use.


Dr. Gray’s Closing Comments:

I greatly commend Kevin Trenberth for agreeing to debate me on this global warming issue. Many global warming advocates will not engage is such open and opposite dialogs. I think it is in the public’s interest that such back and forth debates continue and expand with other scientists of opposite persuasions on the warming topic. I also commend Ray Harvey for suggesting and moderating this exchange between myself and Kevin Trenberth.

This was Part 2 of a 2-part debate. Read Part 1 here.

[UPDATE]: Readers of this might also be interested in this post over at Pajamas: “Invited to a tea party debate on climate change, AGW supporters opt out of participating — and quite rudely.”

13 comments » | environmentalism, Global Warming

Dr. William Gray and Dr. Kevin Trenberth Debate Global Warming — Part 1

January 30th, 2010 — 8:04pm

The following, which took place before ClimateGate, is a written debate between Dr. Kevin Trenberth — head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder — and Dr. William Gray, Professor Emeritus of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University. This debate originally appeared in the Fort Collins Forum and was later reposted on my quondam website, Fort Collins Tea Party dot com:

Editor’s note: While the issue of anthropogenic global warming is much more than a local issue, we are fortunate to have two leading authorities on climate science in Northern Colorado. Each has a different view of the issue and agreed to this in-paper debate. The Forum believes this type of direct debate is all too rare on this topic and thank doctors Gray and Trenberth for their efforts. The Forum also wants to thank author Ray Harvey for bringing them together for this debate — John Kirsch, Publisher of the Fort Collins Forum:

Dr. William Gray

We Are Not In Climate Crisis

by Dr. Bill Gray
Professor Emeritus of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University

Ask ten people on the street if mankind’s activities are causing global warming, and at least eight will say yes. This is because nearly 20 years of gross exaggeration on the part of scientists, environmentalists, politicians, and media; most of whom wish to profit in some way from the public’s lack of knowledge on the topic-have distorted the subject of human-induced global warming out of all sensible proportion. Many have been lead to believe that Al Gore’s movie and book An Inconvenient Truth provides incontrovertible evidence that human-induced global warming is a real threat. Yet, contrary to what is heard from warming advocates, there is considerable evidence that the global warming we have experienced over the last 30 years and over the last 100 years is largely natural. It is impossible to objectively determine the small amount of human-induced warming in comparison to the large natural changes which are occurring.

Many thousands of scientists from the US and around the globe do not accept the human-induced global warming hypothesis as it has been presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports over the last 15 years. The media has, in general, uncritically accepted the results of the IPCC and over-hyped the human aspects of the warming threat. This makes for better press than saying that the climate changes we have experienced are mostly natural. The contrary views of the many warming skeptics have been largely ignored and their motives denigrated. The alleged “scientific consensus” on this topic is bogus. As more research on the human impact on global temperature change comes forth, more flaws are being found in the hypothesis.

It must be pointed out that most climate research is supported by the federal government. All federally sponsored researchers need positive peer-reviews on their published papers and grant proposals. This can be difficult for many of the “closet” warming skeptics who receive federal grant support. Many are reluctant to give full expression of their views, primarily because of worries over continuing grant support. It is difficult to receive federal grant support if one’s views differ from the majority of their peers who receive support to find evidence of the warming threat. The normal scientific process of objectively studying both sides of the question has not yet occurred. Such open discussion has been largely discouraged by warming advocates.

Implementation of the proposed international treaties restricting future greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 20 to 80 percent of current emissions would lead to a large slowdown in the world’s economic development and, at the same time, have no significant impact on the globe’s future temperature.

Many of the Global Climate Model (GCMs) simulations by large US and foreign government laboratories and universities, on which so much of these warming scenarios are based, have some very basic flaws. These global models are not able to correctly model the globe’s small-scale precipitation processes. They have incorrectly parameterized the rain processes in their models to give an unrealistically enhanced warming influence to CO2. This is the so-called positive water-vapor feedback. The observations I have been analyzing for many years show that the globe’s net upper-level water vapor does not increase but slightly decreases with warming. These GCMs also do not yet accurately model the globe’s deep ocean circulation which appears to be the primary driving mechanism for most of the global temperature increases that have occurred over the last 30 and last 100 years. GCMs should not be relied upon to give global temperature information 50 to 100 years into the future. GCM modelers do not dare make public short-period global temperature forecasts for next season, next year, or a few years hence. This is because they know they do not have shorter range climate forecasting skill. They would lose credibility if they issued shorter-range yearly forecasts that could be objectively verified. Climate modelers live mostly in a “virtual world” of their own making. This virtual world is isolated from the real world of weather and climate. Few of the GCM modelers have any substantial weather or short-range climate forecasting experience. It is impossible to make skillful initial-value numerical predictions beyond a few weeks. Although numerical weather prediction has shown steady and impressive improvement since its inception in 1955, these forecast improvements have been primarily made through advancements in the measurement (i.e. satellite) of the wind and pressure fields and the advection/extrapolation of these fields forward in time 10-15 days. For skillful numerical prediction beyond a few weeks, it is necessary to forecast changes in the globe’s complicated energy and moisture fields. This entails forecasting processes such as amounts of cloudiness, condensation heating, evaporation cooling, cloud-free radiation, air-sea moisture- temperature flux, etc. It is impossible to accurately code all these complicated energy moisture processes, and integrate these processes forward for hundreds of thousands of time-steps and expect to obtain anything close to meaningful results. Realistic climate forecasting by numerical processes is not possible now, and, because of the complex nature of the earth’s climate system, they may never be possible.

Global temperatures have always fluctuated and will continue to do so regardless of how much anthropogenic greenhouse gases are put into the atmosphere.

The globe has many serious environmental problems. Most of these problems are regional or local in nature, not global. Forced global reductions in human-produced greenhouse gases will not offer much benefit for the globe’s serious regional and local environmental problems. We should, of course, make all reasonable reductions in greenhouse gases to the extent that we do not pay too high an economic price. We need a prosperous economy to have sufficient resources to further adapt and expand energy production.

Even if CO2 is causing very small global temperature increases there is hardly anything we can do about it. China, India, and Third World countries will not limit their growing greenhouse gas emissions. Many experts believe that there may be net positive benefits to humankind through a small amount of global warming. It is known that vegetation and crops tend to benefit from higher amounts of atmospheric CO2, particularly vegetation which is under temperature or moisture stress.

I believe that in the next few years the globe is going to enter a modest cooling period similar to what was experienced in the 30 years between the mid-1940s and the mid-1970s. This will be primarily a result of changes in the globe’s deep-ocean circulation. I am convinced that in 15-20 years we will look back on this period of global warming hysteria as we now look back on other popular and trendy scientific ideas that have not stood the test of time.


Dr. Kevin Trenberth

Response by Dr. Kevin Trenberth

Global Warming: Coming Ready Or Not

by Kevin E Trenberth
Head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research

Bill Gray suggests that we are not in a climate crisis. He should speak for himself. Maybe there is not a crisis in the sense that the world’s weather is falling apart now. But there is a major crisis in the failure to act to prevent potentially catastrophic changes in the future, in the times of our grandchildren, and their children. Changes in the climate are already evident. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has spoken:

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and it is “very likely” due to human activities. Those were the key conclusions approved by 113 nations in Working Group I, which studies the science of climate change and the role of humans in affecting climate. The full report that is the basis for the summary was drafted by 154 lead authors and more than 450 contributing authors and runs to over 1,000 pages. Two other IPCC working groups deal with impacts of climate change, vulnerability, and options for adaptation to such changes, and options for mitigating and slowing the climate change, including possible policy options. In recognition of the stalwart work over 20 years, the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the IPCC and Al Gore.

Global mean temperatures have increased since the 19th century, and especially since the mid-1970s. Temperatures have increased nearly everywhere over land, and sea temperatures have also increased, reinforcing the evidence from land. However, global warming does not mean that temperatures increase steadily or uniformly because the atmospheric circulation also changes. As Gray suggests, natural variability has always been around and will continue. But we can now clearly demonstrate with climate models (and replicate this in many different countries and groups) that since about 1970 observed climate change is well outside the realm of natural variability. Some changes arising from global warming may be benign or even beneficial, such as a longer growing season.

But warming means increased heat waves and drying that increases risk of drought and reduces snowpack and water resources, a major concern in the West. It also increases water vapor in the atmosphere leading to more intense storms, heavier rains and greater risk of flooding, something observed to be happening in the US and elsewhere. Moreover, as noted by IPCC, there is clear evidence that upper level water vapor is increasing. The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to show that specific global and regional changes resulting from global warming are already upon us. The future projections are for much more warming, but with rates of change perhaps a hundred times as fast as those experienced in nature over the past 10,000 years. Just how fast depends on how humans as a whole respond to these warnings. There are uncertainties (although these cut both ways). However, the inertia of the climate system and the long life of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere mean that we are already committed to a significant level of climate change.

Bill Gray suggests that there has been a gross exaggeration and major distortion on climate change. IPCC scientists come from all parts of the political spectrum and dozens of countries; climate “skeptics” can and do participate, some as authors, and their goal is to produce the best scientific statements possible. Yet Gray implies that these scientists somehow no longer act independently, as scientists are wont to do, but instead conspire to mislead the public on climate change for their own selfish reasons. I don’t know anyone who has so profited. Gray’s comments about peer review fail to recognize that scientists are naturally very skeptical. However, it is not “views” that matter but rather evidence and reasoning, the very basis of science. Open discussion based on sound science is widely encouraged.

Gray is correct that global climate models are flawed and are just that, a model of the real world. By design, the resolution of the models can not deal with small-scale (less than about 100 miles) phenomena well. But they are by far the best tool we have for examining the enormously complex weather and climate system, and to replace model results by someone’s belief that has no physical basis does not cut it. The models continue to improve, especially as computers get faster and enable finer structure to be resolved, and many of the observed changes are simulated in climate models run for the past 100 years, adding confidence to understanding of the relationship with the agents that alter the climate and human-induced changes in atmospheric composition, and adding confidence to future projections. It may be impossible to model climate, as Gray suggests, but we are doing it anyway.

I have found that the only scientists who disagree with the IPCC report are those who have not read it and are poorly informed. The IPCC is a body of scientists from around the world convened by the United Nations jointly under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and initiated in 1988. Its mandate is to provide policy makers with an objective assessment of the scientific and technical information available about climate change, its environmental and socio-economic impacts, and possible response options. The IPCC reports on the science of global climate and the effects of human activities on climate in particular. Major assessments were made in 1990, 1995, 2001, and now 2007. Each new IPCC report reviews and assesses the state of knowledge, while trying to reconcile disparate claims and resolve discrepancies, and document uncertainties. The IPCC process is very open.

Two major reviews were carried out in producing each IPCC report. Every one of the thousands of comments submitted, including those by skeptics, are answered and the action taken is documented (in a huge Excel spread sheet that is publicly available), in a process overseen by independent review editors. Of course, many comments received are in conflict and many are demonstrably wrong. To get the IPCC authors to make changes, there has to be documented evidence and a reason. Opinion alone, such as Gray’s, does not make the grade. Many of the skeptics accept the IPCC report, and their arguments have changed from it is not happening to it is happening but it will be good for us!

The strength of the IPCC report is that it is a consensus report. Far from being a “gross exaggeration” as claimed by Gray, the IPCC report is really solid and conservative. It is not the latest “trendy scientific idea,” Rather it has been widely criticized for underestimating the recent observed changes in the Arctic (record low Arctic sea ice in 2007), and many scientists believe that sea level rise (from melting glaciers) will be much greater than projected by IPCC.

Since 1992 when a new satellite was launched that can provide true global measurements, sea level has risen at a rate of one foot per century, confirming the reality of global warming.

Gray goes on to claim, out of the blue, “restricting future greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 20 to 80 percent of current emissions would lead to a large slowdown in the world’s economic development …” On the contrary, saving energy and doing things more efficiently helps the economy substantially while reducing future climate change. It also helps preserve a non-renewable resource, and improves security by cutting dependence on foreign oil.

Gray then goes on to suggest that even if global warming is happening, there is nothing we can do about it because developing countries will continue growth and increase carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed this is a major concern and our government over the past eight years has failed us badly by not negotiating with these countries to protect our global atmosphere through international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol.

The atmosphere is a global commons. The “Tragedy of the Commons” occurs when it is in everyone’s interest to use and exploit the commons but at the expense of the commons itself. Unfortunately, this is what is happening. In 2007 it is estimated that China will be the largest emitter of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As Americans, we should be outraged that the Chinese are dumping huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, sharing their emissions with everyone else and changing every one else’s climate! And we should be outraged that our politicians have not represented us well in that way. By the same token, the Chinese ought to be just as outraged that Americans are putting about as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Since it is the accumulated amount that matters most, the United States more than any other nation, is responsible for the climate change underway. The United States emissions per capita are two and a half times those in Europe, and emissions per capita in Texas are three times what they are in California, highlighting the scope for major progress. Sixteen US states are keen to follow California into reducing carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles but are [and were] prevented from doing so by the EPA and the Bush Administration.

There is much that can be done, and America should lead. If done in the right way, benefits to the climate through reduced emissions save energy and promote the economy, while increasing sustainability.

[End of Part 1]

The debate rages on: read Part 2 here — the shattering climax

[UPDATE]: Readers of this might also be interested in this post over at Pajamas: “Invited to a tea party debate on climate change, AGW supporters opt out of participating — and quite rudely.”

9 comments » | environmentalism, Global Warming

Howard Zinn: Freedom Versus Equality

January 29th, 2010 — 7:04pm

Howard Zinn was born on August 24, 1922. He died January 27, 2010.

Zinn taught Political Science at Boston University from 1964 until 1988; he was an American historian, of sorts, a self-proclaimed Marxist who, by his own admission, did not believe in objective history:

I wanted my writing of history and my teaching of history to be a part of social struggle. I wanted to be a part of history and not just a recorder and teacher of history. So that kind of attitude towards history, history itself as a political act, has always informed my writing and my teaching….

Objectivity is impossible, and it is also undesirable. That is, if it were possible it would be undesirable, because if you have any kind of a social aim, if you think history should serve society in some way; should serve the progress of the human race; should serve justice in some way, then it requires that you make your selection on the basis of what you think will advance causes of humanity.

Howard Zinn is probably second only to Noam Chomsky in terms of the neo-Marxist influence he wields, and in light of Howard Zinn’s recent revivification, which began just prior to his death, the History Channel aired a program called The People Speak, which was a documentary written and produced by Matt Damon and based upon Howard Zinn’s propaganda publication A People’s History of the United States.

Quoting from his People’s History:

“The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history, because it uses wealth to turn those in the 99 percent against one another” (A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn).

That is Howard Zinn’s philosophy in compendiated form: Ninety-nine out of one hundred of us are not actually free, even if we think we are, because income inequalities exist.

Howard Zinn never seriously asked why income inequalities exist in the first place — at least, not that I’ve ever seen — but the answer to that question is this: not everyone possesses the same degree of talent, skill, and most especially, ambition. (This point, incidentally, was dramatized persuasively in the late Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron.”)

Inequality is inherent to freedom.

Humans left free naturally stratify, as several famous experiments have demonstrated. Why? Because of the reason just stated: humans possess varying degrees of talent, brains, and most of all, ambition.

Freedom, of course, does not guarantee wealth; it does not guarantee success. Freedom is one thing and one thing only: the absence of compulsion. It simply means that you are left alone. Freedom means no entitlements, no minimum guarantees, no help (or hindrance) at all, no public education, no free health care, no drinking laws, no illegalization of drugs, and so on.

Howard Zinn did not pretend to be an advocate of liberty. He, like all postmodernists and neo-Marxists, believed that “social equality” and “social justice” are more important than freedom, and, accordingly, individual rights (particularly the inalienable right to your own property — i.e. your money) can be lawfully expropriated by the government and redistributed.

To this day, Zinn’s A People’s History remains a staple among academics and other leftists — despite the fact that it is the only “academic” history book that doesn’t contain a single source citation, and despite the fact that it was refuted long ago, and devastatingly so, by the Harvard historian Oscar Handlin in the pages of the The American Scholar (49). Here’s an excerpt of that refutation:

It simply is not true that ‘what Columbus did to the Arawaks of the Bahamas, Cortez did to the Aztecs of Mexico, Pizarro to the Incas of Peru, and the English settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts to the Powhatans and the Pequots.’ It simply is not true that the farmers of the Chesapeake colonies in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries avidly desired the importation of black slaves, or that the gap between rich and poor widened in the eighteenth-century colonies. Zinn gulps down as literally true the proven hoax of Polly Baker and the improbable Plough Jogger, and he repeats uncritically the old charge that President Lincoln altered his views to suit his audience. The Geneva assembly of 1954 did not agree on elections in a unified Vietnam; that was simply the hope expressed by the British chairman when the parties concerned could not agree. The United States did not back Batista in 1959; it had ended aid to Cuba and washed its hands of him well before then. ‘Tet’ was not evidence of the unpopularity of the Saigon government, but a resounding rejection of the northern invaders (Dr. Oscar Handlin, The American Scholar, 49, 1980).

Ron Radosh has also very recently written an excellent article on Mr. Howard Zinn and Mr. Good Will Hunting.

Howard Zinn: 1922-2010

6 comments » | Uncategorized

Peak Oil?

January 28th, 2010 — 7:03am

From the moment oil first made it into the mainstream, peak oil and the imminent depletion of fossil fuels have been vehemently predicted.

A by-no-means exhaustive list of those predictions might run something like this:

“I take this opportunity to express my opinion in the strongest terms, that the amazing exhibition of oil which has characterized the last twenty, and will probably characterize the next ten or twenty years, is nevertheless, not only geologically but historically, a temporary and vanishing phenomenon – one which young men will live to see come to its natural end” (1886, J.P. Lesley, state geologist of Pennsylvania).

“There is little or no chance for more oil in California” (1886, U.S. Geological Survey).

“There is little or no chance for more oil in Kansas and Texas” (1891, U.S. Geological Survey).

“Total future production limit of 5.7 billion barrels of oil, perhaps a ten-year supply” (1914, U.S. Bureau of Mines).

“Reserves to last only thirteen years” (1939, Department of the Interior).

“Reserves to last thirteen years” (1951, Department of the Interior, Oil and Gas Division).

“We could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade” (President Jimmy Carter speaking in 1978 to the entire world).

“At the present rate of use, it is estimated that coal reserves will last 200 more years. Petroleum may run out in 20 to 30 years, and natural gas may last only another 70 years” (Ralph M. Feather, Merrill textbook Science Connections Annotated Teacher’s Version, 1990, p. 493).

“At the current rate of consumption, some scientists estimate that the world’s known supplies of oil … will be used up within your lifetime” (1993, The United States and its People).

“The supply of fossil fuels is being used up at an alarming rate. Governments must help save our fossil fuel supply by passing laws limiting their use” (Merrill/Glenco textbook, Biology, An Everyday Experience, 1992).

(Give particular heed to that last sentence.)

Quotes like these could fill hundreds of pages easily.

There comes a point, however — and we reached it long ago — when one needs to stop swallowing these scare-mongering scenarios.

There comes a point when one needs to look at the entire history of doomsday predictions and learn something from their long and undistinguished history of incontrovertible failure.

There comes a point, finally, when one needs to question what motivates these people.

To the millions of you who believe the latest round of dire forecasts, I ask you this in all seriousness:

What do you really think — that all the other apocalyptic predictions and predictors, over all the centuries and millennium, were wrong, but people like James Howard Kunstler and Richard Heinberg have at last got it right?

The fact is that anyone can say whatever he wants about anything. But that doesn’t necessarily make it true.

The 1970s book Limits to Growth, for instance, is chock full of reams of “hard data” proving mass famine and the end of the world as we know it — all to occur in a just couple of short decades from when it was written — but none of it came to pass. Not one word of it.

Thomas Malthus’s economic predictions of population-caused famines also failed stupendously, and Malthus himself — a guru of present-day environmentalists — eventually came to reject his early writings. No matter: This doesn’t stop neo-Malthusians like environmental high priest Lester Brown from forecasting a “2004 or 2005 worldwide famine.”

Or Dr. Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University laying “even odds that by the year 2000 Great Britain will no longer exist.”

Neither does it stop any of the endless predictions concerning global warming, species extinction, or forest depletion — for instance, the famous statement made by biologist Norman Myers, which sent environmentalists everywhere scurrying to their soapboxes, that “2 percent of all tropical forest was being destroyed per year,” and that by “2000 we will have lost a third of the world’s tropical forest” (Myers cited in Goudie 1993:46), which flew so far afield it would be laughable were it not so sickening.

(The Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] puts tropical deforestation in the 1980s at 0.8 percent. In 2001, satellite imagery, which is precise, shows that tropical deforestation had declined to 0.46 percent.)

The history of humankind is replete with false prognostications. It’s time to ask why these predictions are not only always wrong but why they are always so spectacularly wrong.

Here is a crux:

In calculating the amount of natural resources, whether the resource is fossil fuel, crude oil, bauxite, bitumen, gold, or anything else, there is a vital principle at work; it is a principle that doomers of all persuasions have failed to discover and no longer, I think, have the capacity to grasp:

“No matter how closely it is defined, the physical quantity of a resource in the earth is not fully known at any time, because resources are sought and found only as they are needed. Even if the quantities of a particular resource were exactly known, such measurements would not be meaningful, because humans have a near-limitless capacity for developing additional ways to meet our needs: developing fiber optics, for instance, instead of copper wire …” (Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2. Emphasis mine.)

The following is another secret about natural resources, which any legitimate graph or study will confirm:

The more a resource is used, the more that the supply of that resource increases.

It will sound counterintuitive, but only at first. Here’s why:

We begin to know about a resource only when we begin to use the resource. Knowing about that resource includes a cursory calculation of its quantity. The more we use of it, the more adept we become at finding it and calculating its quantity, extracting it and refining it. Thus, the more of it we use, the more of it we’re able to find.

The whole history of resource supply-and-demand has followed this exact principle.

Fossil fuel is no exception:

Observe any non-biased chart on the subject, and it will show that over the last century, oil supply has risen significantly, not diminished, as has virtually every other resource, so long as we’ve continued using it.

Quoting Peter Huber and Mark Mills:

Most of what people think they know about energy is so very wrong that their convictions, heartfelt though they may be, lie beyond logical contradiction or refutation….What most of us think about energy supply is wrong. Energy supplies are unlimited; it is energetic order that’s scarce, and the order in energy that’s expensive….Supplies do not ultimately depend on the addition of reserves, the development of new fuels, or the husbanding of known resources. Energy begets more energy; tomorrow’s supply is determined by today’s consumption. The more energy we seize and use, the more adept we become at finding and seizing still more.

What most of us think about energy demand is even more wrong. Our main use of energy isn’t lighting, locomotion, or cooling; what we use energy for, mainly, is to extract, refine, process, and purify energy itself. And the more efficient we become at refining energy in this way, the more we want to use the final product. Thus, more efficient engines, motors, lights, and cars lead to more energy consumption, not less (Peter Huber and Mark Mills, The Bottomless Well).

Some of the real data about fossil fuel is this:

Humanity consumes about 345 Quads of fossil fuel each year. A quad is a quadrillion British Thermal Units.

Of those 345 Quads, the United States consumes approximately 100.

The United States consumes by far the most, but — and here is a fact too often neglected in discussions of U.S. fossil fuel consumption — the United States also produces by far the most.

The inevitable exhaustion of fossil fuels, so strenuously predicted since the 1880’s, is a notion that’s invariably built upon a fraudulent premise: it’s built off the data of what today’s technology makes accessible.

This reasoning, as we’ve touched upon already, is demonstrably flawed.

No one seriously disputes that with better technology, and better power, we could retrieve far more [fossil fuel]. We already know where to find centuries’ worth of coal – global deposits hold 200,000 Quads. Oil shale deposits hold 10 Million Quads; heavy oils are already being extracted by brute force from the Canadian Athabasca deposits, and bioengineered bacteria could make the earth’s vast deposits of these oils economically accessible everywhere within a decade or less. Even more abundant is the energy locked up within uranium and other radioactive elements. The world’s oceans contain over 10 trillion Quads’ worth of deuterium, a fuel that we will in due course learn to unlock with nuclear fusion. And nothing very fundamentally new will be required to unlock it (Ibid).

Energy begets energy.

The more energy we use, the better we become at developing, extracting, and refining ever more.

Stopping or even slowing the use of fossil fuel would not, contrary to what you’ve been told, solve this (non-existent) fossil fuel problem: on the contrary, it would bring progress to a grinding halt; but even more than that, it would do so by shutting down the rational mind, which is the uniquely human method of survival.

It would blast us back to the stone age.

Which is precisely what many environmentalists, especially those of the better informed variety, want.

There exists no technology that can survey and measure the total quantity of oil and potential oil beneath all the land and sea, including tar sand and shale oil and the conversion of coal to oil.

So where exactly the doomers get their dire predictions is unclear.

What motivates these doomers is even more obscure.

And more frightening.

A quote from The Wall Street Journal, January 2005:

The cost of oil comes down to the cost of finding, and then lifting or extracting. First, you have to decide where to dig. Exploration costs currently run under $3 per barrel in much of the Mideast, and below $7 for oil hidden deep under the ocean. But these costs have been falling, not rising, because imaging technology that lets geologists peer through miles of water and rock improves faster than supplies recede. Many lower-grade deposits require no new looking at all.

To pick just one example among many, finding costs are essentially zero for the 3.5 trillion barrels of oil that soak the clay in the Orinoco basin in Venezuela, and the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta, Canada. Yes, that’s trillion – over a century’s worth of global supply, at the current 30-billion-barrel-a-year rate of consumption.

Please note particularly that last paragraph.

And, while you’re at it, do yourself another big favor:

Ignore all the dire predictions about peak oil and the end of fossil fuels that you’ve been hearing for the last one hundred years.

Ignore the catastrophic scare-mongering that books like The Party’s Over and The Long Emergency propound.

At every point in human history, the individual has been attacked by some government somewhere, on one side of the globe or another, always for the sake of some group.

In this century alone, to cite only a few of the more conspicuous examples, the individual was subordinated in Communist Russia to the proletariat; so too in Communist China, let us forget the millions upon millions of proletarians murdered or imprisoned under these romanticized regimes.

In Nazi Germany, the individual was subordinated to the “superior race.”

In Socialist Europe, in present day Germany and France, “labor” or the masses or The Environment all trump the individual.

In the United States as well claims concerning the environment threaten, as we speak, the individual’s right to her own life and property.

And the scare-mongering only increases: misinformation about fossil fuels has spawned, among a traditionally secular left, such a glut of doomsday predictions that they rival or eclipse any heard from the Religious Right — the only real difference being, instead of telling us to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” we’re told “learn to conserve and farm, for the end of the industrial society is at hand.”

But whether secular or non-secular, dogma is dogma, oppression is oppression, and the misguided doomsday predictions we hear from environmentalists are ultimately every bit as misbegotten as any doomsday predictions we hear from the Religious Right – and, one might well add, ultimately just as banal.

In one form or another, this propaganda is as old as mankind herself — the only real difference being the agenda.

Which agenda is this: let your big benevolent government regulate and control fossil fuels and all other energy besides, and let this same big benevolent government control your property as well, and thereby your life.

It’s called Environmentalism. But it’s really Neo-Marxism.

And Marxism by any other name is, and always will be, the same plain old discredited Marxism.

16 comments » | Capitalism, economics, environmentalism, Fossil Fuel

George W. Bush

January 25th, 2010 — 8:38am

Under President George W. Bush, who was the Herbert Hoover of his day, appropriated government programs grew from $298 billion to $613 billion.

Under President George W. Bush, Social Security spending went from $406 billion to $662 billion.

Under President George W. Bush, Medicare spending went from $216 billion to $425 billion.
Under under President George W. Bush, Medicaid spending went from $117.9 billion to $259 billion.

Under President George W. Bush, “miscellaneous spending” went from $290 billion to $673 billion.

Under President George W. Bush, net interest dropped from $222.9 billion to $139 billion.

Under President George W. Bush, disaster cost went from $0 billion to $4 billion.

In George W. Bush’s eight years, government spending increased more than 55 percent.

Even when adjusted for inflation in constant dollars, federal expenditures under Bush soared by 29 percent.

During his Presidency, real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) only increased by 17.3 percent, and over the Bush years, real government spending went up nearly twice as fast as the actual U.S. economy.

The left should therefore be in love with George W. Bush. He, like his father and like Ronald Reagan, was a complete statist.

There’s more:

Under George W. Bush, Washington ran deficits almost every year. Total federal debt doubled and rose from 58 percent to 66 percent of GDP, for a 14 percent increase in taxpayer debt burden (in terms of the Gross Domestic Product).

Here’s a quick rundown:

• Payment for Individuals: $1054.6 billion in the year 2000 to $1397.1 billion in the year 2007.

• Social Security and Railroad Retirement: $410.5 billion in the year 2000 to $487.7 billion in the year 2007.

• Federal Employees Retirement and Insurance: $100.3 billion in the year 2000 to $116.0 billion in the year 2007.

• Unemployment Insurance: 21.1 billion in the year 2000 to 27.1 billion in the year 2007.

• Medical Care: $362.7 billion in the year 2000 to $559.9 billion in the year 2007.

• Student Assistance: $10.9 billion in the year 2000 to $24.9 billion in the year 2007.

• Housing Assistance: $24.1 billion in the year 2000 to $27.0 billion in the year 2007.

• Food and Nutrition Assistance: $32.4 billion in the year 2000 to $46.3 billion in the year 2007.

• Public Assistance and Related Programs: $88.3 billion in 2000 to $103.4 billion in 2007.

• Other Transfers to Individuals: $4.3 billion in 2000 to $4.7 billion in 2007.

Of course, there was also the $700 billion Troubled Relief Assets Program (also known as the TARP bailout), and yet if you think these figures are difficult to fathom and the expenditures over-the-top, I assure you they do not even begin to compare to the massive spending apparatus that Barack Obama has unleashed.

Indeed, next to Barack Obama, George W. Bush’s reckless spending is downright frugal.

3 comments » | America, Capitalism, economics

Proof Of God?

January 25th, 2010 — 12:08am

A reader writes:

Dear Harvey Ray: Is there proof of God? Can science prove that God doesn’t exist?


Hopelessly Devoted

Dear Hopelessly Devoted: No, science cannot. In fact, nothing can. Yet we can be certain that God doesn’t exist — by virtue of the very nature of proof.

The meaning of proof precludes proving something for which there is no evidence.

God is primarily of metaphysical and ethical import. Proof, on the other hand, is epistemological.

Proof is an overwhelming preponderance of evidence that admits no alternative.

Proof, by definition, requires evidence. Indeed, proof is evidence.

For this reason, the attempt to prove something for which there is no evidence is a contradiction in terms. The philosophy of science presupposes this principle, but historically, up to the present day, it’s been poorly defended.

You’ve no doubt heard the platitude: “You can’t prove a negative.”

The reason this statement contains a kernel of truth is that proof requires data, as opposed to an absence of data. And that is why the burden of proof falls upon the person making the claim.

If, for example, you claim that little green men exist inside the human brain, and that these green men are responsible, through an intricate process of lever-pulling, for human consciousness, it is you who must prove this — by providing data — and not us who must disprove it.

What you’re really referring to in your excellent question is a thing epistemologists call evidentialism, or the law of the arbitrary.

If the onus of proof were on me, for instance, to prove that these little green men didn’t exist, what, may I ask, do you think that would entail?

I’ll tell you:

Among other things, it would entail that anyone could say whatever he wanted about anything, regardless of data, and I’d have to spend the rest of my life trying to prove him wrong without any data, while he sat back and fabricated more arbitrary claims. And, indeed, many people do just that.

Fortunately for the human race, this is not how the reasoning process actually works.

The proper response to these claims is simply to dismiss them categorically for what they actually are: neither true nor false, but whimsical — that is, arbitrary — until some hard evidence is put forth. But the evidence must come first, before the claim.

That is what you must always remember.

Evidence constitutes proof.

Merely claiming does not constitute evidence; that’s too easy.

Thus, if you claim God or if you claim green men, it is you, not me, who must produce the data.

Epistemologically, there’s no significant difference between green men, God, the Great Spirit, or, for that matter, Grendel.

Which is why for the mystically inclined, fideism is the best bet, although fideism too runs spectacularly aground, but in other ways, less epistemolgic, perhaps, but clearly more dramatic.

12 comments » | epistemology, metaphysics, Philosophy


January 23rd, 2010 — 8:33am

Capitalism is a social system based upon private ownership of the means of production and the preeminence of the individual over the group.

The word capitalism was popularized by Karl Marx, in the 1850’s. Marx used it to denounce private ownership of the means of production and the autonomous workings of the free market.

Capitalism is an entire political theory — not, as is sometimes supposed, merely economic. In this regard — and only in this regard — it is akin to communism.

The exclusively economic component of capitalism may be described as the right to life, liberty, and property applied to commerce and industry.

Pure laissez-faire capitalism, which does not exist now and has never existed fully, means that government removes itself from all commerce (and that includes healthcare), in the same way that government removes itself from your bedroom.

In addition to early America, there is at least one other society that has come close to laissez faire:

After the War Hong Kong had no minimum wage, low and simple taxes, zero tariffs, zero capital controls, and a stable legal environment. Postwar Hong Kong went as far with economic laissez faire as any other country in history. This resulted in economic development that benefited virtually all the people of Hong Kong. Living standards increased substantially even for the poorest people in Hong Kong (Stefan Karlsson, Inflation Leads to Protectionism, 2004).

Capitalism means that commerce and industry are entirely privatized.

Corporations that receive government subsidies are not capitalistic. They’re the opposite: they’re mercantilistic.

The same is true of small businesses and farms that receive subsidies.

Trade tariffs are not capitalistic but mercantilistic.

Mercantilism is an ancient and more primitive form of socialism. It is socialism before Karl Marx.

Political theory is the theory of government, and government, properly defined, is the body politic that possesses rule over a certain geographic region.

Economics is the science of production and exchange, but production does not just mean agriculture, although that is certainly included.

Productive work is any kind of work geared toward the task of survival — survival in the fully human sense of the word, including, therefore, arts, sports, industry, and so on.

Thus the essential questions of government are these:

Do humans exist by right or by permission? Are we free by nature? If so, why? Are we free to produce, exchange, and exist, or do politicians, elected or not, have authority and jurisdiction over the lives of us — to any degree?

Obviously, there’s only one sane answer to all these questions; for to say that humans do not exist by right is the same as saying humans only exist when someone permits us to. But if that were true, we must then ask: who permits? And why? And who gives these people permission?

Fundamentally, political freedom can be achieved only through recognizing each and every single individual’s right to life.

If, then, you believe that we are each individuated and sovereign, and if you believe that our lives are entirely our own and not the government’s and not another’s, if, in short, you believe “we each have a property in our person,” as John Locke said, then you believe in the inalienable right to life, liberty, and property.

You believe, therefore, in laissez-faire capitalism.

11 comments » | Capitalism, economics, Political philosophy

Glass Recycling

January 22nd, 2010 — 7:39am

Read Part 1 of this article here.

Take an empty beer bottle. We can either throw that glass bottle away or recycle it.

Assume for a moment that we all want what’s best for the planet. Assume, therefore, that we want to use as few resources as possible.

Should we recycle our beer bottle, then? Or should we throw it away?

And how do we know?

Do we believe the Al Gore’s of the world, who assert what we should do, for no other reason than that they assert it? Or do we look into the actual data ourselves?

Ask yourself this:

If recycling is more expensive than using new materials, can it really be more efficient?

The free market prices its resources by what’s called opportunity cost.

Opportunity cost is not arbitrary.

It means that producers won’t choose packaging which costs more if that packaging is identical (or inferior) to other options.

For years now, many of you have spent thousands upon thousands upon thousands of hours sorting, washing, de-labeling, and resorting bottles so that these bottles could be recycled.

The horrible truth of the matter is that most of these hours have been a complete waste, the very thing you sought to avoid.

But more than that: the environment is worse off because of your efforts.

Most of the glass you’ve worked hard to have recycled is now resting in some landfill – via a very circuitous, and very costly, route.

That’s a fact.

Here are a few more:

Recycled glass is called cullet.

The process of producing cullet consists of grinding up glass, which in turn requires machines and much electricity.

Recycling glass is a thoroughly industrial process, make no mistake.

Cullet glass is full of additives, contaminants, and impurities, most of which are trapped within the cullet, so that they remain harmless. If, however, someone again melts the glass, which is precisely what happens when it is recycled, these contaminants are released into the earth, water, and air.

Different colored glasses cannot be merged for bottles.

Mixed cullet is, for the most part, useless.

Clear glass and green glass are usually landfilled.

Glass broken beyond a certain point is landfilled.

Amber glass is the only recyclable glass that’s remotely in demand.

Silica – also known as sand, which is what glass is made of – is exceptionally cheap and exceptionally abundant.

Silica production is not a danger to the environment, by any standard. Indeed, silica is made into glass without any extra steps or expense, unlike recycled glass, which is much more involved and much more environmentally unfriendly.

That is why virgin glass is cheaper than cullet glass. It also, incidentally, provides you with a critical clue into something you should know the next time you ponder whether to throw your bottles into the trash, or into the recycling bin.

If cullet glass is more expensive and also more toxic, and if cullet glass usually ends up in landfills anyway, why, then, do we bother recycling glass?

A good question, for which, unfortunately, there is no good answer.

Here, however, are some of the bad ones:

“Recycling is always cheaper, no matter how much it costs in terms of those Federal Reserve notes you call money,” say a number of my critics.


“Silica mining rapes Mother Earth.”

You can certainly believe this nonsense if you like, and I, for one, will certainly never convince you otherwise, no matter the evidence.

But you should be aware of how much more waste you’re creating, and how much more you are polluting the environment.

You can also believe, as many never tire of telling me, that “recycling has a spiritual component,” which in turn gives recycled products “special value that price cannot measure.”

But I’m speaking to those of you who have not yet been blinded by the environmental dogma:

If price is a reliable indicator – and it is – then the majority of recycling is incontrovertibly irrational.

It is worth noting that many American cities, though explicitly “green,” have nevertheless come to see what for many of us has been blindingly obvious for years: glass recycling is an utter waste. It’s a waste of time, and it’s a waste of resources and money. Furthermore, it’s bad for the environment.

That is why many American cities have wisely done away with glass recycling – green glass in particular, which is so plentiful that it’s ridiculous to recycle it, and the cullet market for which is so overwhelmed by an excess supply that recycling it costs big time, in every way, because so much of it is ultimately landfilled.

There are, of course, a number of other cities that “have tried to delete green glass from the list of recyclable materials, but face a political veto from recycling enthusiasts. And, interestingly, the political opposition comes precisely from those people who will end up paying more for the inefficiency of the recycling they insist they want. Taxpayers, citizens, the folks who take their garbage out to the street, want to ask the city to put green glass back on the recyclable list, regardless of the cost” (Michael Munger, “Think Globally, Act Irrationally: Recycling”).

The Coors Recycling Plant is where all recyclable glass in the entire Colorado region goes. An employee there, who requested anonymity, told me this:

“A great deal of what has been sorted for recycling does end up being landfilled, despite what you hear, because of contamination or lack of market for the recycled material.”

How much?

“Don’t ask.”

One estimate: less than half.

Another estimate: less than a third.

Another: less than a quarter.

Conservatively, this means that if 80,000 tons are hauled for recycling, about 40,000 tons ends up in a landfill.

To put that into perspective:

Rather than throw your bottles into the trash and then pay one of our fine local haulers to take that trash to the dump, as we used to do in the good old days before the religion of environmentalism swept across the country like a plague, we are now paying our local government, in the form of subsidies, so that we can now spend thousands upon thousands of hours cleaning, de-labeling, sorting, and resorting glass, so that we can then pay for more trucks to pump more pollution into the air and use more fossil fuels in the process, so that finally our bottles can be hauled a couple of hundred miles (roundtrip), so that they can then, at last, be landfilled.

That is the beauty of green politics and all their profligate governmental bureaucracies.

That is our earth-friendly greens at their finest.

It is also sheer madness.

Ask yourself another question:

How has such a fraud been perpetrated?

Answer: the neo-Marxist philosophy of environmentalism and your tacit sanction of that philosophy.

Recycling “feels good,” for instance.

It has a “spiritual component.”

Recycling “simply must be better for the environment.”

Humans are a blight upon the earth.

Reader, you’re being lied to.

You’ve been brainwashed into believing that throwing away your Heinenken bottles will destroy the planet.

If you only hear a single thing that I’m saying, let it be this: if something is viable, it will never need to be subsidized.

If subsidies are called for, that thing is wrong.

Recycling must by necessity be subsidized because it is inherently wasteful. When recycling is not wasteful, it’s done voluntarily, as it’s been done since the dawn of humankind.

If you doubt this, read Rubbish, by one of our foremost rubbish experts, Doctor William Rathje.

And remember this also:

“There is a simple test for determining whether something is a resource (something valuable) or just garbage (something you want to dispose of at the lowest possible cost, including costs to the environment). If someone will pay you for the item, it’s a resource. Or, if you can use the item to make something else people want, and do it at lower price or higher quality than you could without that item, then the item is also a resource. But if you have to pay someone to take the item away, or if other things made with that item cost more or have lower quality, then the item is garbage” (Michael Munger, “Think Globally, Act Irrationally: Recycling”).

Read Part One of this article here.

23 comments » | environmentalism, Recycling

Recycled Trash

January 21st, 2010 — 9:56am

Few arguments are more dangerous than the ones that “feel” right but can’t be justified (Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, 1981).

Paradoxically, recycled trash is exactly what you get 99 times out of 100 when the sacred subject of recycling comes up.

Recycling is the process whereby rubbish is converted into reusable materials.

Recycling — once known as scavenging — is as old as mankind herself, and it has always been a way dealing with waste products. But it was once a decision left up to individuals, and not coercive governmental institutions.

Rubbish is an inescapable by-product of human life.

At present, there are only three possible ways of dealing with rubbish: dumping, incinerating, or recycling.

One of the primary forces behind the push for so much mandatory recycling is utter ignorance about the extent to which spontaneous recycling occurs in the private sector.

In the words of one of our foremost rubbish expert, Doctor William Rathje, of the University of Arizona:

“As long as mankind has been throwing away trash, others have sifted through it.”

What this translates to is this:

When recycling makes sense, as it does with scrap steel and aluminum cans, it makes sense not because of resource scarcity, which is not a problem, nor because extracting the resources will irreparably harm the environment (it won’t), but because it is economically tenable to do so.

Businesses in free-market countries exist to recycle these products. And they’ve existed for many, many decades.

Furthermore, no one is being forced to save recyclables, or to take them away.

A few other things about recycling you’ll most likely never hear from our environmental contingent:

Forests in developed countries are not mowed down to produce paper, and recycling paper does not “save forests”: pulpwood is grown and farmed specifically for paper, as this quondam forester makes unequivocally clear.

Thus in the long run mandatory recycling laws hurt people and the economy, for when demand declines, farmers stop growing pulpwood trees. And since recycled paper often requires more energy to make, it is often more expensive.

In addition, de-inking newspapers, which is necessary in order to recycle them, may create a toxic sludge not at all good for the environment, which sludge, toxic or not, must somewhere be landfilled.

Because recycling ignores the law of supply and demand, recycled material is very often landfilled – as, to cite one of many examples, shortly after enacting its mandatory recycling laws, the German government admitted (Recycling’ Demand Side: “Lessons from Germany’s Green Dot”).

“[We] are running out of ways to dispose of our waste in a manner that keeps it out of either sight or mind,” said Nobel Prize winner Albert Gore, a statement contradicted by every shred of hard data on this subject.

For example:

“If we permitted rubbish to reach the height it did at New York’s Fresh Kills site (255 feet), a landfill that would hold all of America’s garbage for the next century would still be only about 10 miles on a side” (Lomborg, 2001).


During the 1980s, the waste disposal industry moved to using larger landfills, partly because of new EPA regulations and partly because of consolidations and mergers. At the same time, the number of operating landfills fell sharply. The EPA, the press, and a variety of other commentators focused on the number of landfills, rather than on their capacity, which was growing rapidly, and concluded that we were running out of space. J. Winston Porter, the EPA Assistant Administrator responsible for that agency’s role in creating the appearance of a garbage crisis, has since admitted that the key EPA study was flawed because it counted landfills rather than landfill capacity, and it also underestimated the prospects for creating additional capacity. Allen Geswein, an EPA official and one of the authors of the EPA study, remarked, ‘I’ve always wondered where that crap about a landfill-capacity crisis came from’ (Bailey 1995, A8).

Even the notoriously leftist EPA acknowledges that risk to life from modern landfills is “virtually nonexistent.”

The truth is, there is no shortage of landfill space, not remotely. All the trash produced by the United States for the next one thousand years could fit into a landfill forty-four miles square by 120 feet deep – one tenth of 1 percent of all this country’s entire land area. (“A Consumer’s Guide to Environmental Myths and Realities,” Clark Wiseman, Gonzaga University.)

“Recycling laws could eliminate the one-pound coffee ‘brick packs’ you now find in retail stores. These packages hold the same amount of coffee as metal cans, but weigh less than one-third of traditional metal cans, and they take up little space. Recycled-content laws would force the use of cans instead” (Facts not Fear).

Transporting recyclables requires separate collection trucks. In addition to which, producing finished recycled goods consumes a great deal of energy and also causes pollution, every bit as much as producing, for example, paper from pulpwood.

“In Los Angles, curbside recycling means that the city had to have eight hundred rather than four hundred trucks to pick up trash. And that city already has an air pollution problem” (Ibid).

Rubbish is indeed an inescapable by-product of human life. Yet according to Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund: “Garbage is intolerable in a free society.”

Humans, in other words, must live as ghosts, because the religion of environmentalism finds the by-products of human existence “intolerable.”

Concerning the question of which method creates the most pollution:

“It is almost beyond dispute that manufacturing products from recyclables instead of from virgin raw materials” (making, for instance, paper out of old newspapers instead of virgin timber) “causes less pollution and imposes fewer burdens on the earth’s natural habitat and biodiversity,” says the Natural Resources Defense Council.

And yet:

This assumption is not merely beyond dispute; it is wrong in many instances. Recycling is a manufacturing process, and therefore it too has environmental impact. The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment (1989, 191) says that it is ‘usually not clear whether secondary manufacturing [such as recycling] produces less pollution per ton of material processed than primary manufacturing processes.’ Indeed, the Office of Technology Assessment goes on to explain why: Recycling changes the nature of pollution, sometimes increasing it and sometimes decreasing it. For example, the EPA examined both virgin paper processing 18 PERC POLICY SERIES and recycled paper processing for toxic substances. Five toxic substances were found only in virgin processes, eight only in recycling processes, and twelve in both processes. Among these twelve, all but one was present in higher levels in the recycling processes (Office of Technology Assessment 1989, 191). Similar mixed results have been found for steel and aluminum production. Indeed, over the past twenty years, a large body of literature devoted to life-cycle analyses of products from their birth to death has repeatedly found that recycling can increase pollution as well as decrease it (Daniel K. Benjamin, “Eight Great Myths of Recycling”).

Reader, at the very least know this:

Nothing is ever truly recycled until it has been sorted, remanufactured, and repurchased.

Thus, one must not just blindly advocate a categorical policy of recycling, recycling, recycling — by compulsion, if necessary — without any regard for what the market will bear.

This only creates tons more waste, which is one of the many reasons that mandatorily recycled garbage is so often landfilled.

So much for the inane claim that “economics have nothing to do with the environment.”

This, like recycling and a host of other issues, is just so much more environmental trash.

Read Part 2 of this article Glass Recycling here.

5 comments » | environmentalism, Recycling

Water, Water Everywhere, Nor Any Drop To Drink

January 19th, 2010 — 7:05am

The most obvious place to begin any real discussion of water is in pointing out that right now on planet earth, water in its potable form is about the most abundant resource there is. No one even passingly acquainted with the subject seriously disputes this.

In the words of water specialist Fredrik Segerfeldt: “Water is a finite resource. In principle, though, the supply of water is so great as to be infinite for all human purposes” (Water For Sale, 2005, p. 13).

No less than that notoriously leftward-leaning institution called the United Nations reported: “The world uses only 8 percent of the total water that exists on the planet.”

The UN adds: “Water is a renewable resource [and thus] can be used over and over again” (Water for People, Water for Life: The United Nations World Water Development Report, 2002).

Among even slightly less liberal hydrologists, however, this 8 percent figure is regarded as high.

Here are a few more water statistics for you to guzzle down:

Two-thirds of the earth is water.

The vast majority of that is either salt water or frozen water.

Salt water evaporates and comes back to the earth in the form of fresh water.

The amount of water on the planet is static. Which means: all the water that exists on earth has, for the most part, always existed on earth. The amount remains essentially the same because water recycles itself through evaporation and precipitation.

Currently, two and a half million liters of water are available each year for every man, woman, and child on the planet. This translates to about 19,000 liters per day, per person, which is an astronomically large amount, certainly far more water than any one person could consume in an entire month, let alone one day.

Water can be desalinated (i.e. converted from salt water into fresh water) relatively easily and inexpensively.

Even in the midst of such overwhelming abundance, there is a water crisis in the world.


“The problem,” says Terry Anderson, of Montana State University, “is that water is often found in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The reason water is frequently in the wrong place at the wrong time is that “it’s cheaper than it should be, which causes people to overuse it.”

Why is it cheaper than it should be?

In a phrase, government subsidies.

As a result, we find ourselves ceaselessly subject to the mantra-like chanting of enviros: “Conserve water, use less water, put bricks in your toilets, don’t flush, take shorter showers (if you must shower at all), use 5 gallons less per day.” Et cetera.

Let us examine briefly how effective these conservation measures really are — and how necessary.

To begin with, it should be noted that far and away the majority of water used is not used for direct consumption, nor for bathing, toilet flushing, or watering the lawn, all of which constitute only a tiny fraction. Rather, the vast majority of water is used for agriculture.

Thus, since crops require X amount of water to grow and flourish, the conservation measures that are espoused by enviros add up to such an insignificant amount of water saved that it might as well be flushed down the toilet.

Quoting the economist Julian Simon:

“The ridiculousness of such ‘conservation’ measures as not putting water on the tables of restaurants or not flushing the toilet every time is discussed in a later chapter.”

Enviros have many responses to such statements, but having listened to them all for decades now, I assure you that they all stem from the exact same principle: an utter unwillingness to believe that the entire ecological philosophy is predicated upon, and propagated by means of, an ideology whose every major premise is fraudulent.

Fully 80 to 90 percent of water, then, is used in agriculture. That is the reason water used in agriculture is so sensitive to price.

The reason there are cases of absolute shortage and rationing is that price is not allowed to respond to market conditions, but rather is fixed at a low subsidized price in many agricultural areas. For example, farmers near Fresno, California pay $17 for an acre-foot of water, while according to the U.S. General Accounting Office the ‘full cost’ is $42 a foot. In some areas in California farmers pay $5 per acre-foot, whereas the Los Angles water authorities pay $500 per acre-foot. Such subsidies encourage farmers to plant crops that use water heavily, which diverts water from urban areas…. Water economists are agreed that if governments stop subsidizing water to farmers, and allow water to be bought and sold freely, water shortages would no longer appear. But bureaucratic government restrictions often prevent those who have rights to more water than they need from selling their water rights to those who are willing to pay for the water; the bureaucrats fight tooth and nail to protect their own powers, and the results are amazing stories of governmentally caused inefficiency and true scarcity leading to [government supervised] rationing (Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2, p. 153).

The environmental solution — which, tacitly or explicitly, the rightwing has also at least partially accepted — is this: create more laws to prevent new infrastructures from being developed, which infrastructures also transport water from places where there is too much water to places where there is too little. Instead, let us institute coercive conservation measures that ultimately add up to too little water to make a noticeable difference.

The forgotten factor in this is the private sector — forgotten because, according to both rightwing and left, lobbyists, pressure groups, and bureaucrats alike are all better suited to run our lives and the life of the economy than the individuals who make up that society and that society’s economy.

We see the evidence of the above principle in practice every day: the private businessman, the private taxpayer — in short, the individual — are each subordinate to whatever given pressure group pushes the hardest to get its agenda passed. Right now of course it’s “climate change.

With regard to water, though, what is finally the point? Profligacy and wanton waste? Coercive conservation laws to better “preserve” miniscule amounts of water, which in actuality is a stupendously abundant resource?

No, neither.

The point is to let the law of supply and demand work.

To objectify this, take a quick look at the present-day history of Macao, China, starting in about 1985, when authorities signed a concession contract with a private water industry. The results: the greatest leap in quantity and quality of water in all of Asia.

Then take a look at the massive $3.4 billion water projects planned by the massive left-wing Peruvian government in 1993, which ended it total failure and waste.

The Bolivian example — which Fredrik Segerfeldt also discusses in his book — often used by interventionists to show how privatization putatively doesn’t work, reveals in fact the opposite, and highlights also the nature of crony capitalism: specifically, the then-mayor of Cochabamba wouldn’t allow the city’s water supply to be privatized until a dam was included in the (sweetheart) deal, and his friends were thus put in charge of building that dam. The failure of the Cochabamba water infrastructure can in large part be blamed on that very dam, but even more damning than that are the bureaucrats who don’t enforce laws on public water managers.

Says Segerfeldt:

[After Chile] introduced private ownership of water in the 1980s, water supply has grown faster than in any other country. Thirty years ago, only 27 percent of Chileans in rural areas and 63 percent of urban communities had steady access to safe water. Today’s figures are 94 and 99 percent, respectively — the highest for all the world’s medium-income countries” (Water For Sale, p. 31).

Or the Mahaweli Development Program in Sri Lanka that took “44 percent of all public investment,” the costs of which “rose so high as to make the new farmland hugely expensive, forcing government to then subsidize the land,” and which in turn “created severe social tensions, because the money for the subsidies had to be taken from other items of expenditure, and because those allotted lands were considered to have obtained unfair advantages” (Fredrik Segerfeldt, Water For Sale, p. 20).

Or take a look at Ethiopia’s titanic bureaucratic nightmare called the Water Management Program in the 1990’s, where “eight different authorities were involved … resulting in much unnecessary duplication and heavy wastage … Added to which large parts of the country were still left out of the water and sewerage networks” (Ibid, p 21).

This is the sort of gross ineptitude — inherent, almost by definition, to governmental bureaucracy of any kind — that your rightwing and leftwing brothers and sisters have so much confidence in, and in turn would have you place all your confidences in.

Don’t do it.

Not for the thing most vital to life: H2O.

3 comments » | Property Rights, Water

Do Animals Possess Rights?

January 16th, 2010 — 9:45pm

A reader writes:

Dear Ray: I recently read a synopsis of a book about the question of animal rights, and I’m curious to know your take. Do animals possess rights? If so, where do these rights reside?


Pig Bodine

Dear Pig Bodine: Rights are a formal codification of human freedom.

Rights, as Herbert Spencer said, are “politico-ethical precepts” that define and delimit human freedom in large groups.

This last thing is emphasized because rights would not be necessary if you lived alone, or even if you lived in a small and insular society. Rights derive from three things: human individuation, human society, and the power of choice, which gives rise to moral agency.

Rights are discoveries, not inventions. One proof of this is found in the fact that the only alternative to acting by right is acting by permission. Whose permission? Answering that question is where you’ll first begin to glimpse the true nature of rights. Indeed, rights are not only not invented: they are an outgrowth of a crucial human need: morality.

Those who would deny rights consistently must, in order to remain consistent, espouse amoralism. Amoralism means no good and no bad. Amoralism does not mean a different standard of good and bad. It means that there is no such thing as good or bad. In the same way, and for the same reason, that you can’t describe a lizard’s behavior as right or wrong because the lizard is amoral, so it is, according to the amoralist, with human beings. Chronic lying, rape, genocide, coprophilia — these, to the amoralist, are all neither bad nor good; they just are. Conversely, self-control, courage, honesty, happiness — these also are neither good nor bad; they just are. To an amoralist, all human actions are exactly equal because from her or his viewpoint morality simply does not exist: morality is an arbitrary human invention without any referent in reality.

Amoralism is the end result of denying the existence of rights.

If humans do not exist by right, humans exist by permission. Whose permission? Whoever holds control. Force therefore becomes the standard.

Rights have been under siege since the moment they were first brought into the light, and yet they’ve remained remarkably resilient. The reason rights have remained resilient is that in some sense they are self-evident: we each own ourselves.

No freedom and no justice can exist if rights don’t exist — or, in other words, if rights are invented. Indeed, one of the definitions that Oxford gives for rights is the following: “A justifiable claim, on legal or moral grounds, to have or obtain something, or to act in a certain way.” Another definition that Oxford gives is this: “Righteousness, truth, or justice; esp. the cause of truth or justice.”

The very word rights in this context has its origins in ancient Roman law and is related to the Roman word jus. According to historian J. Stuart Jackson, “jus is wider than that of positive law laid down by authority, and denotes an order morally binding on the members of the community.” In the Roman sense of the word, “right” meant “what is just.” The Roman juris Ulpian considered a person’s right “that which is due him [or her] given his [or her] status as a human being.” (Cambridge Ancient History: The Primitive Institutions of Rome, H. Stuart Jackson.)

Rights entitle holders to certain freedoms — specifically, the freedom to move and act in a certain way. Notice that phrase “freedom to act.” It is a crucial distinction because rights do not assure you of anything except the freedom to try.

But what is the stuff of rights? Of what are they made?

To begin with, rights are not primaries. They are precipitated by something. This means that rights derive from something more fundamental. And that something is a thing which is very specific within the human condition: the faculty of choice.

Choice is a prerequisite of morality: there can be no good or bad if there is no freedom to choose a certain course of action. Rights, in turn, are an elaboration upon morality — specifically, morality within a societal framework. That is the link between ethics and politics, which rights supply us with. It is for this reason that rights have been described by Herbert Spencer as “politico-ethical precepts.”

Rights, then, are ultimately grounded in the human capacity of choice — which is to say, free will — because human action is not automatic; and so, therefore, human survival is not automatic but entails choice. As Samual Adams expressed it:

Among the natural rights … are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can…. Rights are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature.

Rights are necessary for the full exercise of morality, because coercion is the opposite of choice. Some humans may flourish best under coercion, and some humans may even prefer coercion to freedom, but that’s not the point. In any case, it is no argument against rights. The point here is that if you believe humans possess moral agency, you believe, perforce, that rights are inherently part of each (healthy) human: without rights, we would not each have the authority in which to choose moral (or immoral) action. And if you don’t believe that humans possess moral agency, then you don’t believe that humans possess the faculty of choice, in which case you don’t believe that humans can think, but live and act amorally.

Individuation is the crux of rights.

What individuation refers to is the fact that we each have the potential to decide (or not) whether to engage the brain. As the philosophical psychologist Rollo May said:

When we analyze will with all the tools that modern psychology brings us, we shall find ourselves pushed back to the level of attention or inattention as the seat of will.” (Emphases added). “The effort which goes into the exercise of will is really effort of attention; the strain in willing is the effort to keep the consciousness clear, i.e. the strain of keeping attention focused (Rollo May, Love and Will, 1969).

That is the fundamental act of will — or, if you prefer, the fundamental choice — that determines individuation. It is an act of will which the individual alone can perform, and which the individual alone is responsible for. It is the locus of human sovereignty. (It is also, incidentally, the reason a fetus does not possess rights, but the woman carrying the fetus does: she is individuated; the fetus is not.)

The stuff of rights, then, is the faculty of choice, which gives rise to right and wrong courses of action. But choice comes first. Without choice, there is no morality, and thus there are no rights.

I’m sometimes asked: where do rights reside? Do they dwell as ghosts inside us? The answer is, no, they do not dwell as ghosts inside us. Rights are principles. They reside within the human condition — specifically, the human brain, which operates by means of reason, the activation of which is chosen: it must be willed by each individual. If human action were not chosen but automatic, as it is with the beasts of our animal kingdom, then there would be no such thing as rights, because our actions would be automatic. We would live as those beasts — neither moral nor immoral, but amoral. But human action is chosen. And that is what necessitates the freedom to choose.

The evolution of the human brain is the thing that created rights. How so? Because this evolution created a rational animal called a human being — which is to say, it created the freedom of the will. In slightly more religious terms than I’m comfortable with, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) otherwise put it well:

The greatest gift that God in His bounty made in creation, and the most conformable to His goodness, and that which He prizes the most, was the freedom of will, with which the creatures with intelligence, they all and they alone, were and are endowed (“Paradiso,” Canto V, lines 19-24).

Animals do not possess rights because animals are not moral agents — i.e. they are not rational agents. Animals act by genetic predilection or genetic proclivity. The action of animals is not chosen in the full sense of the word. For this reason, the action of animals is amoral.

The grizzly that mauls the innocent child is not evil. The man who mauls the innocent child is.

So it is here the question inevitably arises that if animals do not possess rights, neither, therefore, do babies — or, at least, those babies who only have a few months to live — and nor, for the same reason, do severely brain-damaged people, who are unable to exercise a rational faculty. This flimsy peg (the so-called “argument from marginal cases”) is the postmodern peg that animal rights activists are now hanging their entire case upon.

The first thing to be said about it is that it’s a non sequitur.

The second thing to be said is that severely brain-damaged people do not possess actual rights, for the very reason that we outlined above: they are not able to think and reason. The unalienable right to life, liberty, and property hinges upon the capacity to think, which implies choice, and also upon one’s knowledge. In the same way that healthy children develop the moral faculty gradually, over a span of years, (healthy) children develop rights gradually as they mature into independent beings. Brain-damaged humans who cannot exercise the power of rationality — which is to say, morality — cannot, obviously, exercise their rights, because those rights reside in the very thing these people lack. Thus she (or he) does not possess actual rights. The protection of these people is something granted them for being a part of the human species (and, of course, the chance of medical breakthroughs).

In any case, the attempt to grant animals rights on the basis of so-called marginal human cases does not follow. In fact, it is to negate the very term rights by assuming that marginal cases are the norm and therefore the standard. To grant, for instance, an animal “the right to be left alone” (as it’s often phrased these days) means, among many other things, that there can be no such thing as meat-eating (even under dire conditions), but more than that: there can be no such thing as the domestication of animals, and no such thing as pet ownership: obviously, rights preclude any sort of humans-eating-or-owning-other-humans. If, moreover, it were proven that plants also feel pain and also possess sentience, as many people believe, then plants too possess the “right to be left alone,” and human beings starve because we possess moral agency, while the rest of the animal (and plant) kingdom does not starve, because they are held to no such standards — for the very reason that humans are held to such standards: the rational mind.

(If you think plant rights is a far-fetched idea, don’t read this.)

What this positions amounts to is a stupendous contradiction: animals have the right to be left alone, even though they don’t possess the very thing that necessitates rights: moral agency and the power of reason. And because they don’t possess this, they are incapable of respecting the rights of other animals (including humans); and yet their “rights” must still be respected — by humans alone, because we alone possess the very thing that gives rise to rights. This is a grave and dangerous misunderstanding of the word rights — most specifically of the human need that gives rise to rights, which need is not, incidentally, marginal case at all. If this philosophy were adopted, it would obliterate the idea of rights entirely. To say nothing of the vast legal apparatus that would be required in order to codify, systematize, and institute every animal’s “right to be left alone,” as well as the absurd spectacle of humans presuming to speak for the “wronged” animals, which does have historical precedent, and which, in fact, someone once made a movie about.

There would also, of course, be the not insignificant necessity of human punishment meted out (by humans), for that wronged beast, which beast, however, does not survive by reason but must have justice (i.e.the respect for rights) delivered unto it, even though that beast has absolutely no conception of justice, and never will. This is wrong, all wrong. The distinguishing characteristic of rights is compossibility. Thus there is a very simple, and entirely foolproof, method for determining if something is a right or not: Your rights, my rights, every person’s rights, stop where another’s begin. If you follow that maxim, you’ll never confuse the issue.

10 comments » | ethics, Individual rights, Political philosophy

Global Warming

January 10th, 2010 — 9:00am

Politically, global warming and climate change have little if anything to do with climate science, and the fact that this subject has become such an overwhelming political issue is a fine testament to how poorly the world understands the legitimate functions of government, and why those functions are legitimate.

Indeed, it turns out that the whole anthropogenic global warming (AGW) position can be easily defused without any reference to science at all, because the error, at root, is epistemological.

The truth about global warming which many don’t want to hear is that it’s become so polarized only because it’s turned political. The essentials of the subject have thereby been swallowed up in a murky ocean of misinformation, equivocation, and propaganda.

Let us start by defining terms:

Statism is concentrated state authority; it refers to a government that believes it has legitimate power to any extent over individual rights and freedom of trade.

Opposition to laissez-faire capitalism derives in part from ethics, but even more fundamentally from the science of epistemology.

Ethically the fundamental political question is this: are humans free by nature?

The answer to that depends upon the answer to an even deeper question: why (if at all) are humans free by nature?

And the answer to that is epistemologic.

The human brain – to address the latter query first – is individuated and rational by nature; because of this, man by nature possesses the faculty of choice.

Rationality is choice.

And choice presupposes the freedom to choose. This is the locus of the inseparable, indivisible link between reason and rights. Ultimately it is only the individual who can exercise the power of volition, or not. Government bureaus cannot. The state cannot. The collective cannot. Only the individuals who make up these entities.

If humans did not possess the faculty of choice, humans would be neither moral nor immoral but amoral, just as animals for this very reason are amoral.

But human action is chosen.

This, then, is what finally gives rise to the fact of human freedom as an epistemological necessity.

It’s also what it means to say that humans are free by nature: we are born with a cognitive faculty that gives us the power of choice; since this faculty is the primary method by which we thrive and keep ourselves alive, we must (therefore) be left free to exercise that faculty — and leave others likewise free.

This is a form of contractarianism.

Please note that this is not just some esoteric theory on how human freedom could conceivably be defended: the rights of each individual are demonstrably rooted in man’s cognitive quiddity – and for this precise reason, human freedom without an accurate and thorough understanding of man’s epistemologic nature can never be fully understood.
Or defended.

In the words of Samuel Adams:

“Rights are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature.”

And Claude Fredrich Bastiat:

“For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but an extension of our faculties? … Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor, and by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources.”

It is precisely the lack of epistemological grounding that has made rights and therefore human freedom vulnerable throughout all of history.

The evolution of the human brain created rights; it happened at the exact moment when this same evolution created a rational animal called a human being – which is to say, when nature created the capacity of free will.

Philosophy, then, being the most general science, unifies facts from all disciplines into an indivisible whole.

Thus, without proper philosophical underpinnings, scientific facts, no matter how airtight they are, remain unincorporated.

It is this point that provides us with the real and final connection between global warming and individual rights; for the provenance of rights, including private property rights and the freedom to trade that property, is found ultimately in man’s freedom of will, and it is only statist politics – also known as coercive government – that can with impunity negate the individual’s natural rights.

It does so through force, either directly (as in physical expropriation or imprisonment), or indirectly (as in compulsory taxation or fines).

The statist politics that the AGW position explicitly calls for are in this way antithetical to the methods by which the human brain and the human species properly functions and flourishes.

That is the fundamental argument against statism, in any of its multifarious guises. It is a foolproof argument, and it is the first and strongest line of defense: because each and every individual is free by nature, we are free to, in Adam Smith’s words, “truck, barter, and exchange.”

But there’s much more to it than this.

It must first of all never be forgotten that the philosophy of science is only a species of philosophy proper.

This has crucial ramifications.

Science is the systematic gathering of data through observation and reason.

Science is built upon knowledge, and knowledge is built upon reason.

Reason derives from the nature of the human mind, for man is the rational animal.

Epistemology – one of the two main branches of philosophy – is the science of knowledge.
Epistemology, therefore, studies the nature of reason.

In this way, all science is hierarchically dependent upon epistemology.

In the realm of human conviction, there exists at any given time only three primary alternatives: possible, probable, and certain.

Possible is when some evidence exists, but not much.

Probable is when a lot of evidence exists, but not all.

Certain is when the evidence is so overwhelming that no other conclusion is possible.

Obviously, then, what constitutes possible, probable, or certain is the amount of evidence and the context of knowledge within which that evidence is found.

To conclude certain, or even “over 99 percent certain,” to quote James Hansen of NASA, requires a sufficient knowledge of all relevant data and all potentially relevant data.

This is as true in a scientific laboratory as it is in a court of law.

It means that nothing – the complexity of clouds, for instance, or aerosols, deep ocean currents, cosmic rays, sun spots, et cetera – nothing is poorly understood, or insufficiently understood.

It means that the science has culminated to such a degree that our knowledge of it is complete or near-complete – so much so, at any rate, that there is essentially very little left to learn.

It means that because the evidence is so great, the conclusion admits no doubt.

It means, moreover, that the data-gathering process is not biased or influenced in any way by anything extracurricular, like activism.

Such is the nature of certainty.

From an epistemological standpoint, certainty means absolute.

And yet it’s many of these same AGW scientists who, today, under the insidious influence of postmodernism, assure us that there are no absolutes in science – “science doesn’t deal in truth, but only likelihood,” to quote another NASA scientist, Gavin Schmidt.

Truth is only relative, you see.

Quantum physics and thermodynamics have “proven” that the only certainty is that nothing is certain; definitions are purely a question of semantics; a unified philosophy is “circular reasoning” (or, at best, “system-building”); all moral law and all social law is subjective and unprovable.

The mind, in short, cannot know anything for certain. Yet AGW is virtually certain.
These are all epistemological assertions.

Syllogistically, the entire anthropogenic global warming position can be recapitulated in this way:

Global warming is man-made. Man is ruled by governments. Therefore, government bureaus, centralized planning committees, and more laws are the only solution.

In philosophy, this is called a non-sequitur.

It does not follow.

It’s far too hasty.

Please read Chapter 15 of my book to find out why.

14 comments » | environmentalism, epistemology, Global Warming, Philosophy, Political philosophy, postmodernism, Skepticism

Quentin Tarantino or David Lynch?

January 9th, 2010 — 4:28am

A reader writes:

Dear Ray Harvey: Who’s the better filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino or David Lynch?

P. Durango

Dear P. Durango: Are you kidding me? But there’s no comparison. That’s like asking me: who of those two has better hair?

As a filmmaker, David Lynch possesses innumerable shortcomings, foremost of which is the fact that he’s an obscurantist extraordinaire — and this is no small thing.

The symbolic in art, you see, must never supersede the literal — or to put that another way, the symbolic meaning must always remain secondary to the literal meaning, and the literal must hold up on its own without reference to the symbolic. When an artist makes the symbolic meaning the tail that wags the dog, as David Lynch so often does, she defaults on art’s primary function: making the abstract concrete.

Yet for all this, David Lynch is not only the better filmmaker: he’s better by light years.

Quentin Tarantino barely makes it above average. He makes good B movies.

It’s true that Tarantino can tell a story (at times, not consistently). This isn’t really his problem.

His problem is that he lacks depth.

If theme is the meaning that a story’s events add up to — and it is — then Tarantino’s movies are almost all themeless because they add up to nothing. They’re action movies, which, even as action movies go, are often boring and wildly gratuitous. (Inglorious Basterds was a notable exception.)

Tarantino’s dialogue at its best is good, but it, too, is inconsistent. Pulp Fiction, slightly campy now, remains by far his best movie.

Reservoir Dogs? You can see skill there, in flashes, despite its wobbly plot. But there’s no getting around the fact that Quentin Tarantino could never in a million years create Wild at Heart and Sailor Ripley, let alone the John Merrick that David Lynch gave us in his awesome version of the Elephant Man — John Merrick dancing alone in his room with tophat and cane, the pure poignancy of which scene is unforgettable.

Tarantino has yet to match Pulp Fiction. It seems to me now that he never will.

Pulp Fiction spawned a thousand imitators — and for good reason: it was funny and it was original. And yet its appeal has dated a little: many scenes still hold up and are as fresh today as they were fifteen years ago. But an almost equal number (i.e. “The Bonnie Situation”) have grown stale and are unconvincing. Time has sunk them.

The David Lynch of Twin Peaks and the David Lynch of Blue Velvet has a depth and intelligence that Tarantino cannot match. Wild at Heart, which is half a decade older than Pulp Fiction, has proven more durable by far.

Just incidentally, Quentin Tarantino’s “The Man From Hollywood” (his Four Rooms contribution) was taken from a Roald Dahl short story called “The Gambler,” and if you want to see where Tarantino got his idea for the ending of Reservoir Dogs, please watch this movie, which was based on the novel by Lawrence Block.

16 comments » | Esthetics

The Elegant Universe

January 7th, 2010 — 9:48am

A reader writes:

Dear Sir: You are reported to have said that there is no order or disorder in the universe apart from what man himself puts there — this in spite of your well-known preoccupation with a fluid and congruent universe. Can you tell us how you reconcile this, with regard in particular to your views on God?


Sarah H

Dear Sarah H: I don’t recall my exact wording of that statement, but I’m certain it’s not as you recapitulate. Presumably you’re referring to my conviction that order and disorder are epistemological words, not metaphysical. By which I mean, they are products of the human brain, and nothing in nature is “disorderly”; it simply is. To speak of order or disorder apart from the human mind is like speaking of color to a person born blind.

Using a slightly less elaborate metaphor, I might, however, concede that nature is “congruent” in the sense that each thing in the universe, however small or large, has a specific nature and must act in accord with that nature.

In this way — and this is also known as the law of essence or identity — the universe is indeed congruent and elegant.

Matter acts and reacts as it must. Matter does not possess will. That is why there’s really no such thing as chance.

It is in this sense that the Nobel Prize winning doctor Christian de Duve, in his fine book Vital Dust, speaks of the universe as a “cosmic imperative.” By that he means nature does not possess volition – or, if you prefer, nature does not possess choice, as humans do.

Nature must act as it does because the identity of each thing determines how it must act. This applies as much to a bursting star as it does to a microscopic particle.

As for God, I can only explain Her popularity by an atheist’s nighttime sweats.

3 comments » | metaphysics

The Difference Between a Cynic and a Skeptic

January 5th, 2010 — 9:08am


The difference between the cynic and the skeptic is the difference between epistemology and ethics. It is the difference between brain and body.

Skepticism is an epistemological word. Cynicism is ethical.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge.

Ethics is the branch of philosophy that deals with morality.

The Greek word skopein – from which the English word scope derives – means “to observe, aim at, examine.” It is related to the Greek skeptesthai, which means “to look out.” Skepsis and skeptikos are also both Greek and mean “to look; to enquire; to aim.” Those are the etymological roots of the word sceptic.

Sceptic – or, if you’re in the United States, skeptic, the difference being purely one of form and not substance – has its origins in the Ancient Greek thinkers who developed arguments which purport to show that knowledge is either impossible (Academic Scepticism) or that there is never sufficient data to tell if knowledge is possible (Pyrrhonian Scepticism).

Academic Scepticism rejects certainty but accepts degrees of probability. In this sense, Academic Scepticism anticipates elements of present-day quantum theory. The Academic Sceptics rejected certainty on the grounds that our senses (from which all knowledge ultimately derives) are unreliable and reason therefore is unreliable since, say the Academic Sceptics, we can find no guaranteed standard by which to gauge whether our convictions are true. This claim rests upon the notion that humans can never know anything that is absolutely false.

The roots of Academic Scepticism are found in Socrates famous apothegm: “All I know is that I know nothing.” The word “Academic” in “Academic Scepticism” refers to Plato’s Academy, third century B.C.

At around this same time, a fellow by the name of Pyrrho of Elis (c.360-275 B.C.), who was connected with the Methodic School of Medicine in Alexandria, founded a school, which soon came to be known as Pyrrhonian Scepticism. Pyrrho’s followers – most notably a loyal student named Timon (c.315-225 B.C.) – were called Pyrrhonists. None of Pyrrho’s actual writings have survived, and the theoretical formulation of his philosophy comes mainly from a man named Aenesidemus (c.100-40 B.C.).

The essential difference between these two schools of Ancient Greek scepticism is this:

The Pyrrhonists regarded even the claim “I know only that I know nothing” as claiming too much knowledge. There’s even a legend that Pyrrho himself refused to make a definitive judgment of knowledge even if “chariots were about to strike him dead,” and his students purportedly rescued him a number of different times because he refused to make commitments.

Pyrrho of Elis

To this day the term Pyrrhonist is synonymous with the term sceptic, which is also synonymous with the term agnostic (a meaning “without”; gnosis meaning “knowledge”).

It’s perhaps worth pointing out as well that the word agnostic in this context was, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, coined by Thomas Henry Huxley, in the spring of 1869, at a party, in which there was reportedly “much licking and sucking.” According to R. H. Hutton, who was there: “Huxley took it from St. Paul’s mention of the altar to ‘the Unknown God.’”

In truth, however, the word agnostic was most likely first used by a woman named Isabel Arundell, in a letter to Huxley. Huxley stole it from and gave her no credit.

The Oxford English Dictionary (Unabridged, 2004) lists four meanings of the term sceptic, which are as follows:

1. one who, like Pyrrho and his followers in Greek antiquity, doubts the possibility of real knowledge of any kind; one who holds that there are no adequate grounds for certainty. Example: “I am apt to think there never yet has really been such a monster in the world as a sceptic” (Tucker, 1768).

2. one who doubts the validity of what claims to be knowledge … popularly, one who maintains a doubting attitude with reference to some particular question or statement; one who is habitually inclined to doubt rather than to believe any assertion or apparent fact that comes before him. Example: “If every sceptic in Theology may teach his follies, there can be no religion” (Samuel Johnson, 1779).

3. one who doubts without absolutely denying the truth of the Christian religion or important party of it; loosely, an unbeliever in Christianity. Example: “In listening to the arguments of a sceptic, you are breathing a poisonous air” (R.B. Girdlestone, 1863).

4. occasionally, from its etymological sense: a truth seeker; an inquirer who has not yet arrived at definite conclusions. Example: “A sceptic, then, is one who shades his eyes in order to look steadfastly at a thing.” (M.D. Conway, 1870).

The anthropogenic global warming debate has catapulted this latter definition to the forefront, yet many purists, who know the philosophical roots of the word scepticism, are not always comfortable using it in this way — mainly because it’s so at odds with the philosophical meaning of the term. Scepticism has over 2,000 years of heavy philosophical baggage, and to call yourself a sceptic in the philosophical sense entails much more than one “who shades his eyes in order to look steadfastly at a thing.”

Language, however, as everyone knows, is a living, breathing organism which will and properly should evolve, and it would be very bad to say that sceptic in this latter sense is incorrect. And yet there is another word, more precise and less laden: Evidentialism.

True scepticism — which is to say, agnosticism, which is to say, Pyrrhonism — rejects the possibility of all knowledge, and yet it is precisely this that the scientist seeks, and finds: knowledge. What is knowledge?

Knowledge is the apprehension of reality based upon observation and reason; reason is the uniquely human faculty of awareness, the apparatus of identification, differentiation, and incorporation. Knowledge is truth, and truth is the accurate identification of reality. Veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus. Truth is the equation of thing and intellect.

For example, when the child grasps that 1 unit combined with 2 other units makes a total of 3 units, that child has discovered a truth. She has gained knowledge. The philosophical sceptic rejects this elementary fact.

The philosophical sceptic is defined by three words: “I don’t know.”

The scientific sceptic, on the other hand, is defined by rational inquiry — someone who investigates with a disposition to be persuaded and yet does not (in the words of perhaps the most famous sceptical inquirer of them all) “insensibly twist facts to fit theories, instead of twisting theories to fit facts.”

A cynic, on the other hand, is someone who doesn’t believe goodness is possible.

Cynicism is a moral concept, not epistemologic.

The word originated with a Greek fellow by the name of Antisthenes (not to be confused with Antihistamines, which are something else), who was once a student of Socrates.

Antisthenes had a notorious contempt for human merit and human pleasure, and that is why to this day the word cynic denotes a sneer.

The cynic rejects goodness; the skeptic rejects knowledge.

Both words, it should also be noted, do, however, have one very important thing in common: from a philosophical standpoint, they’re each stupendously incorrect.

This article first appeared, in slightly different form, at Dr. Jennifer Marohasy’s website.

The comments there are well worth reading.


4 comments » | epistemology, Philosophy, Skepticism

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