Saturday, November 17, 2007

Illiberal Approaches to Possible Global Warming

Tibor R. Machan

In the current rush to judgment about claims that anthropogenic global
warming is imminent—another one of these just came out from the United
Nations—some of the proposals are truly scary. To make the point that
is central, let’s recall that one of the core values of a liberal
society—and on
this score classical and modern liberals tend to agree—is due process. It
is, after
all, the central purpose of such liberal organizations as the ACLU to make
sure that the legal system adheres strictly and without fail to principles
of due process. So, no one may be arrested without making sure that the
against him or her are clear, unambiguous, and that he or she is provided
with proper legal representation. No one may be subjected to prior
restraint. No one may be prejudged or convicted without proof of criminal
conduct. Even once someone has been convicted of a crime, all kinds of
legal protections are erected against abuse or other rights violations.

The recent concern liberals have shown about the way inmates at Guantanamo
Bay are treated falls in line with this basic concern liberals have had
with due process. Liberals, more so than conservatives, have insisted that
nothing justifies violation of the rights of accused persons, not even
when authorities believe there may be imminent danger that the accused
will again commit a crime, including terrorism.

Even in the area of foreign policy, modern liberals have recently stressed
that no military actions may be taken against a country preemptively. Only
if it
is certain beyond a reasonable doubt that such military action is
ultimately defensive rather than offensive could it be justified, even if
there is strong suspicion that something aggressive may be intended.

One liberal complaint about the Iraqi war has been that the Bush
administration failed to heed principles of just war theory, something for
which George W. Bush and Co. have been roundly condemned. Even the
majority of the American public, apart from the president’s liberal
critics, seem to embrace this criticism and will likely replace the
Republicans in the White House, after they have retaken the House and the
Senate in 2006.

So it is disturbing that such liberal icons as former Vice President Al
are insisting that the precautionary principle ought to prevail in the
of environmental policy. That principle amounts to nothing less than
away with concerns about individual rights—imposing Draconian restrictions
on American citizens (and preferably others, too) when it comes to
that may have an impact on global warming. The operative term here is, of
course, “may”. All projections in the global warming discussion are based
on probabilities,
suspicions, and estimates.

Even those who are most emphatic about the negative influence of human
behavior on the environment, the eco system, climate change and the
like provide but probabilities. Will sea levels rise? How much and by
The answers are all given as estimates, more or less well founded in

But just as with the sciences that study human criminal tendencies, having
such estimates and probabilities on which to base public policy does not
suffice as grounds for violating the rights of citizens in a free society.
Yes, some people may have a chromosomal predisposition to behave badly
but within the tradition of liberal jurisprudence this does not justify
taking action against them. A proof of clear and present—imminent—danger
is necessary. It must be shown that there is probable cause to act
against a suspect, it is not enough to show that he or she “may” be

Quite apart from the substance of the climate change/global warming
discussion, it is disturbing that when it comes to their own scary stories
modern liberals like Al Gore and all those who are on his side in the
debate do not even talk about the preemptive nature of the public policies
they propose. Their principles appear to have been left behind. Yet when
their political opponents are willing to compromise principles of just
war, the Geneva Convention, civil liberties, and the like in the war on
terror, somehow these opponents are acting in unforgivably unprincipled

Is it any wonder that a lot of Americans are skeptical about the
motivations of the likes of Mr. Gore and suspect them of wishing to grab
power instead of trying properly to address and solve an real problem?

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