Is Energy Summit about ends or means?

Geoffrey Lawrence

On August 10, former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and a gaggle of political supporters and rent-seekers will descend on Las Vegas for what is being called a "National Clean Energy Summit." 

Speakers will doubtlessly tout the virtue of forcing taxpayers to subsidize less reliable and more expensive energy sources such as wind and solar power, in order to address the perceived problem of global warming. 

Advocates of more intrusive and controlling government have increasingly, over the past several years, seized upon the supposed threat of global warming as an overarching rationale for curtailing individual rights across the entire spectrum of human activity.

Their policy proposals regularly focus on curtailing carbon dioxide emissions and imposing increasingly onerous taxes and controls on how individuals are allowed to live and provide for their families. "We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer," says Al Gore. "They can and do help but they will not take us far enough without collective action."

That global warming is posed as a collective problem serves to justify demands for strong government controls on individuals. People can more easily be deprived of their freedom if their actions, somewhere, by someone, are perceived as subversive of the "greater good." 

This trend grows ever clearer. Scientists who doubt the actual merit behind theories that anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are driving climate change — the rationale for collectivist government control — find themselves harassed, intimidated and labeled "deniers."  Notable intellectuals, eager for ever-more enforced uniformity of thought, go so far as to say those who pause to question the immediate danger of man-made global warming are guilty of treason — a crime traditionally punished by death.

Such "advocates," out to compel dissenters to subscribe to the views of a self-anointed elite, would create a totalitarian state. As Friedrich Hayek showed in detail, totalitarian doctrines spell the end of truth. Facts are not "facts" unless they conform to official propaganda. 

Nowhere is this truer than within the global warming scare. Despite the "scientific" aura that it has assumed, the entire ideology flies in the face of empirical science. A large body of peer-reviewed scientific literature disputes the notion that anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions present a significant threat to the planet. Actual data show a global cooling trend over the past decade. The global temperature anomaly for June 2009 was 0.00 degrees Celsius. Yet, we are told the debate is over before it even began, and that we must now move to enact the proposed solutions.

Given the direction and scope of this 21st Century movement with its often explicitly totalitarian goals, it is reasonable to ask how far its zealots will go. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson recently testified to a congressional committee that "U.S. action alone will not impact CO2 levels." Carbon dioxide emissions in India and China are expected to grow exponentially over the next century as individuals in these nations consume more energy and lift themselves out of poverty. 

Government officials in both nations have been unapologetic about giving greater priority to poverty reduction — instead of prolonging massive poverty through carbon-emission-reduction schemes. 

"India will not accept any emission-reduction target — period," India's Environment Minister said recently. "This is a non-negotiable stand." For their part, Chinese officials have complained that U.S. proposals to impose carbon tariffs would "violate basic WTO rules" and could spark a global trade war.

Yet if advocates of this new totalitarian ethos truly believe their theories, they have little reason to stop at a mere trade war. Since escalating carbon emissions supposedly mean that planetary destruction looms, the American government, says Paul Krugman, is "morally empowered to confront those nations that refuse to act." Inevitably, the collectivist dogma of global warming alarmism, with its claim that planetary survival is at stake, justifies even the most extreme solutions. Logically, given a nation that "refuses to act" to "save the planet," even war cannot be ruled out. All that would remain to be calculated would be the environmental trade-offs: Which weapon system will produce the least CO2 emissions?

As Hayek highlighted 65 years ago, in the totalitarian mindset the ends always justify the means.  Even atrocities can be tolerated if they move some collective — society, the race, the planet — toward some perceived "greater good."

It is quite possible that, despite their rhetoric, our nominally totalitarian leaders may not be willing to employ such extreme means to avert the collective disaster they say awaits us. If so, however, it would suggest that what they insist upon in public is something they themselves do not believe.

At that point, it would become clear that man-made global warming alarmism is really about the collectivist policies themselves — not the purported science.

Geoffrey Lawrence is a fiscal policy analyst at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

Geoffrey Lawrence

Geoffrey Lawrence

Director of Research

Geoffrey Lawrence is director of research at Nevada Policy.

Lawrence has broad experience as a financial executive in the public and private sectors and as a think tank analyst. Lawrence has been Chief Financial Officer of several growth-stage and publicly traded manufacturing companies and managed all financial reporting, internal control, and external compliance efforts with regulatory agencies including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  Lawrence has also served as the senior appointee to the Nevada State Controller’s Office, where he oversaw the state’s external financial reporting, covering nearly $10 billion in annual transactions. During each year of Lawrence’s tenure, the state received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting Award from the Government Finance Officers’ Association.

From 2008 to 2014, Lawrence was director of research and legislative affairs at Nevada Policy and helped the institute develop its platform of ideas to advance and defend a free society.  Lawrence has also written for the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, with particular expertise in state budgets and labor economics.  He was delighted at the opportunity to return to Nevada Policy in 2022 while concurrently serving as research director at the Reason Foundation.

Lawrence holds an M.A. in international economics from American University in Washington, D.C., an M.S. and a B.S. in accounting from Western Governors University, and a B.A. in international relations from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.  He lives in Las Vegas with his beautiful wife, Jenna, and their two kids, Carson Hayek and Sage Aynne.