Friday, April 13, 2018

James Hansen advocates fighting climate change by suing everyone in sight, including ourselves

As thousands of government representatives prepared to jet to Germany for the COP23 climate conference in the fall of 2017, the volume and stridence of proclamations from the leaders of the climate change alarmist movement rose quickly.

Former NASA scientist James Hansen was quoted several times in a Nov. 7, 2017 National Geographic interview, in which he recommended suing the world’s biggest oil, coal and gas, and cement companies for damages resulting from climate change. He says 100 companies have been the source of more than 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. The article tells us “An enormous amount of money is urgently needed to dramatically slash emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), take existing CO2 out of the atmosphere, and for countries to cope with the impacts of climate change, Hansen argues. And that money should come from the companies that profited most from burning fossil fuels, Hansen will tell world leaders Tuesday in Bonn, Germany, at the annual United Nations climate negotiations.”

Later, the article says “Hansen is involved in a 2015 lawsuit against the U.S. federal government, brought by 21 kids under the age of 21, including his own granddaughter. The case argues that the government’s failure to curb CO2 emissions has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.”

If Hansen’s assertions are correct and all our lives are damaged by greenhouse gas emissions, then suing those who harm us might be one way to reduce the harm. But are his assertions true? How do we know? One good way to examine the validity of a statement is to follow it to its logical end and see if it makes sense. Let’s examine two aspects of Hansen’s assertions: that we have all been harmed by CO2 emissions and that suing big companies is a solution.

According to Hansen, all our lives should be much worse off because of greenhouse gas emissions and their supposed causal effect of increasing global temperature. We should have powerful measurable evidence of harm to humanity. Reality contradicts Hansen since by all objective measures our lives have become safer, longer, healthier and richer as humanity has created more energy from fossil fuels. As Indur Goklany says in Humanity Unbound - How Fossil Fuels Saved Humanity from Nature and Nature from Humanity “From 1750 to 2009, global life expectancy more than doubled, global population increased 8-fold, and incomes increased 11-fold. How did this happen? While there were many factors tracing their roots to the renaissance and enlightenment, the rapid industrialization of the West was made possible and supercharged by the discovery and exploitation of industrial scale energy production - energy that powers all other industries. As Goklany states, even today when other energy sources like hydro, nuclear, solar and wind have been discovered and industrialized, “...fossil fuels provide 80 percent of mankind’s energy and 60 percent of its food and clothing.” Clearly, civilization depends on fossil fuel energy and is likely to do so for quite some time.

But has our environment become more dangerous as we exploit this energy? Not at all, points out Goklany, in fact “Global death rates from extreme weather events declined by 98 percent since the 1920s, while economic damages corrected for population growth and wealth have not increased.”

What about Hansen’s assertion we should sue the very companies that have provided the energy and structure that powers the modern world? What would it mean to sue them? Who owns these companies? Well, in brief - we all do. The shares of these publicly traded companies are owned in our individual investment accounts, our group investment plans, our pension plans and the pension plans of our governments. Perhaps hundreds of millions of people own a part of companies like Exxon.

Following the lawsuit process to the end would mean suing ourselves and our neighbors and friends, our employers and our governments, even our children and our parents. Hansen would be suing his granddaughter and she him at the same time they would both be suing the companies that built and power their schools, hospital, roads, homes, and cell phones. They would be suing the creators of the internet and the content that rides on it like that produced by Disney, the artists who travel between cities for productions like Disney on ice, the builders of the ice rinks and power companies who enable the existence of ice rinks in the desert. Hansen would be suing all of human civilization and almost everyone alive today except the few primitives who remain isolated from modern society. In short, it would mean everyone attacking everyone at the same time. To borrow a term from the current movie scene, it would be Ragnarok! Hansen’s call to sue the top 100 producers of CO2 emissions is nothing less than a call for the end of civilization and the virtual elimination of humanity, his granddaughter included.

One of the many things Hansen does not understand is that companies are not people, they are owned by people - many people. The companies have not been the ones profiting from industrial scale energy production, people are. Not just those who own the company, but all those who are customers of the company or customers of their customers. It is the daily choices of all the people in the economic chain of activity that have directed money and profits towards those big companies, and it can be taken away at any time if consumer preferences shift. This is a much more powerful (and what’s more it is a fully moral) method of tuning and improving the marketplace for energy. Whereas the free market price mechanism provides an elegant and infinitely adaptable solution to potential economic challenges like the effects of climate change, Hansen would use a club and rock to smash our biggest and best energy producers to impose his radical personal views on the rest of us. I hope his granddaughter does not grow up to ever see the world in the state that Hansen’s ideas would take us.

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