Ultimately, it will not matter if people in government cynically promote the theory that human activity is destroying the global climate as a means of taking control of your life, or if they take control of your life because they sincerely believe human activity is destroying the global climate.
Either way, government will control your life.
The National Climate Assessment the Obama administration released this week describes in Sisyphean terms the task government faces in limiting carbon dioxide emissions, which the assessment says make up 84 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions it holds guilty of artificially warming our planet.
“Of the carbon dioxide emitted from human activities in a year, about half is removed from the atmosphere by natural processes within a century, but around 20 percent continues to circulate and to effect atmospheric concentrations for thousands of years,” says the report. “Stabilizing or reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, therefore, require very deep reductions in future emissions — ultimately approaching zero — to compensate for past emissions that are still circulating in the Earth system.”
How would government start down the road to achieving zero carbon dioxide emissions from human activities?
“The two dominant production sectors responsible for these emissions are electric power generation (coal and gas) and transportation (petroleum),” says the assessment.
“Over the period 1963-2008,” says the assessment, “annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions slightly more than doubled, because growth in emissions potential attributable to increases in population and GDP per person outweighed reductions contributed by lowered energy and carbon intensity and changes in economic structure.”
In sum, America had too many people enjoying too much wealth while traveling too freely and using too much electricity.
Some jerk with a wife, three kids and a station wagon went on too many long drives back in 1965, recklessly spitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, some of which will still be there long after Barack Obama has surrendered the Oval Office.
Worse, each of the station wagon drivers’ three kids now own an air-conditioned home with a two-car garage, housing a minivan and an SUV.
At a United Nations conference in Mexico in 2010, the Obama Administration pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent less than what they were in 2005. That, however, would get the United States nowhere near zero — let alone where we were in 1965.
And, even if the U.S. government prohibited Americans from emitting a single burp of CO2, what would it matter if China and India and Indonesia and Pakistan continued to grow their own economies and populations and concomitant emissions?
Hurricanes would whip Florida, tornadoes would torment Kansas, and the sea level would threaten low-lying areas of New York and New Jersey — as Americans huddled in their hot, humid hovels — because environmentally insensitive peoples in Shanghai and Islamabad were still buying new cars and turning up their air-conditioning.
White House science adviser John P. Holdren — who, along with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, released the administration’s climate assessment — has been thinking about problems like this for decades.
Forty-one years ago, he published “Human Ecology: Problems and Solution,” co-authored with Paul and Anne Ehrlich, who had written “The Population Bomb.”
“Environmental degradation is not the sum of independent causes, it is the multiplicative product of interconnected ones,” Holdren and the Ehrlichs wrote. “The relation can be written as a mathematical equation: total environmental damage equals population, times the level of material affluence per person, times the environmental damage done by the technology we use to supply each bit of affluence.”
“Halting population growth must be done, but that alone would not be enough,” they wrote. “Stabilizing or reducing the per capita consumption of resources in the United States is necessary, but not sufficient. Attempts to reduce technology’s impact on the environment are essential, but ultimately will be futile if population and affluence grow unchecked.”
“Clearly,” they said, “if there is to be any chance of success, simultaneous attacks must be mounted on all components of the problem.”
“A massive campaign must be launched to restore a high-quality environment in North America and to de-develop the United States,” they concluded.
“The need for de-development presents our economists with a major challenge,” they said. “They must design a stable, low-consumption economy in which there is a much more equitable distribution of wealth than in the present one. Redistribution of wealth both within and among nations is absolutely essential, if a decent life is to be provided for every human being.”
Two decades later, in an essay published by the World Bank, Holdren, Ehrlich and Gretchen Daily of Stanford University, reiterated this analysis. “We know for certain, for example,” they wrote, ” No form of material growth (including population growth), is sustainable.”
“This is enough,” they said, “to say quite a lot about what needs to be faced up to eventually (a world of zero net physical growth), what should be done now (change unsustainable practices, reduce excessive material consumption, slow down population growth), and what the penalty will be for postponing attention to population limitation (lower well-being per person).”
In a nation where government can de-develop the economy, stop population growth and redistribute wealth both inside and outside its borders, there will still be droughts, floods and hot summer nights.
But there will be no freedom.