Climate change

By Eric Magazu

As we begin our trek towards spring, our exceptionally warm winter renews questions about the impacts of global climate change. On its face the issue looks to be rooted in science, but in reality global climate change is a very political issue. People with little-to-no science background take strong positions on the matter. A common presumption is that advocates of global warming, typically democratic advocates, are enlightened and thoughtful, whereas detractors of global warming, typically Republican, are backward. I want to offer another way of looking at the issue.

Lindsey Davis/Collegian

Science shows a recent large increase in carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere, with much of the increase a result of burning fossil fuels and other human activities. The additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means that less solar heat escapes back into space and thus temperatures increase throughout the globe.

A Democrat may argue that the government ought to step in and curtail the activities of private entities to ensure that they do not emit as much carbon dioxide. The difficulty with this view is that much of our progress of the past century is a result of various technological processes that produce carbon dioxide.

A Republican will counter-argue that the science is flawed and that industry should be allowed to continue as it is. This makes Republicans appear backward, when they ought to point out that the real political aspect of the debate is not about the science of global warming, but about private landownership.

The complexity of global warming is that to resolve it on a governmental level requires restrictions on how private entities can use their land. Historically, America possesses a tradition fiercely rooted in individual liberty and private property.

Thomas Jefferson expressed this notion in the Declaration of Independence. While in his actual wording he slightly modified the English legal notion of “life, liberty and property,” the notion of property being a fundamental right was shared by both Jefferson and his contemporaries.

This is why when many people lament that America is not more like Germany and France, who have taken much more strict measures on global warming and other issues of social concern, they lack an understanding of some of the historical nature for why America is slightly different than its continental European counterparts in its very design.

Coincidentally, I would be remiss not to point out that the phrase that Jefferson used to replace property in the Declaration, “the pursuit of happiness,” is misunderstood by modern audiences.

Jefferson’s definition of happiness was referring to the Greek philosophical notion of “eudaimonia,” which translates better as “moral excellence.” This idea that the new American republic would foster virtue among all of its citizens was rampant throughout the vast bulk of American history, and especially in early 19th century.

In modern language, therefore, the Declaration of Independence says that we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, among them “life, liberty and the pursuit of moral excellence.”

Extending the climate change argument to the extremes, some people on the extreme of the democratic side will argue that as a result of many of the environmental crises of our day, the government needs to take control of all private business and all private property, which then triggers the people on the extreme on the Republican side to posit the thesis of a “red-green shift.”

The red-green shift is a strange, yet interesting, theory that posits that with the strong anti-communist feelings in America, and especially since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, many “reds” have simply chosen to “shift” over to the environmental movement and the “greens” as a front for their ultimate goal of eliminating private property rights.

The current kerfuffle between Democrats and Republicans on the matter of global climate change is destined to end either in a stalemate or in an eventual lack of preparation for the future. This is because the debate simply politicizes a scientific topic such that the debate becomes about whether one “believes in” global climate change. This is an unproductive path.

One option that is seemingly ignored is that we accept that some amount of warming will occur, and look at what we are to do next. Natural changes in global climate have occurred throughout Earth’s history, and populations of both humans and animals have simply figured out a way to adapt to the new conditions.

Thinking about how increases in average temperatures, rising ocean levels and changes in weather patterns will affect different cities and countries would be a smart move, without regard to politics. Some areas could become uninhabitable by humans and certain animals, but other species may find a new use for that area.

While climate is not simply determined by average temperature and includes other factors, such as ocean currents and the jet stream, it is possible that areas that are currently colder may become pleasant for human habitation. Potentially both northern Canada and Siberia are large land masses that, under the right circumstances, have the potential to provide large areas of usable land in a world that is five to ten degrees warmer than it is today.

It seems that everyday politics has taken a narrow view of the impacts of climate change, and has chosen to use it as a subtext to showcase the differing philosophical visions of America’s two major political parties. Instead, what is needed is a look at both the challenges and the opportunities that this serious issue presents for the future of the globe.

Eric Magazu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]