I have always loved big weather events ever since I was a boy, from thunderstorms to hurricanes. Recently, though having just crossed the half-century mark, I found myself following hurricane Dorian with pretty much the same intensity of my youth.
I love big weather events when I am safely tucked away somewhere. Conversely, when I am at sea in my small sailing craft I only wish for nature to remain docile and not give me any trouble.
I am not traditionally religious, but I see the religious impulse in myself and so many others. I think a primary psychological driver of religion is a sense of powerlessness. Sayings like: “there are no atheists in foxholes”, etc. suggest this to me. All religions that I know of center on the belief of some force bigger than humanity that ultimately sets things right. And this puts success in life back into your control. You merely need to follow a certain set of moral injunctions and you will be guaranteed a seat at the table, the catch being that that may not happen until the next life.
In some ways I think the present environmental movement, particularly when it comes to issues like climate change, is a religious one. The incredible technological advances of the past two centuries have resulted in immense human control of the natural world, on a global scale. With our technology nature is trapped, tamed, and put into the service of humans.
And what’s so bad about that? Climate controlled living spaces, supermarkets full of nutritious food, jet travel to virtually anywhere in the world, a myriad of entertainment just a click away. Whatever you want, we have an app for that.
So what’s the problem? I come back to powerlessness. Back when there were open plains full of game, lakes full of fish, fruit trees everywhere, one could simply take to the land and live free from human control. But when all the land is owned, when there are so few fish in the sea that only large fishing corporations can utilize them, one has no choice but to play by someone else’s rules in order to survive. You have to offer up your labor to another, and you have to be socially accepted.
Yet again it is undeniable that technology has liberated people. Just look at me, sailing the world’s oceans in my own ship, even earning some money at it making videos which I can post for free on YouTube. A mere century ago such a life would be an unimaginable blessing.
I think what the climate alarmists really want to believe is that someday the earth is going to rise up and punish The Man, with Biblical floods, storms, droughts, etc. so that things will finally be set right for the disaffected. Opportunistic politicians are of course offering sweeping legislative changes to save the climate which will, naturally, put the concerned but powerless into power. Tellingly, proposals like the Green New Deal offer guaranteed jobs, or even guaranteed income. This would seem to restore everyone’s freedom to live as they please, independently if they so choose.
But that, I submit, is an illusion. Whether it be big business or big government, it is run by an elite group of humans, subject to human whims, and the sometimes dangerous tendencies of groupthink. With such a structure, and with the use of clever propaganda, monstrous tyrannies may form. It seems to me that the classic old liberal formula remains our best hope: that government should serve to guarantee its citizens as much liberty as possible, and little else. You all do you, and let’s see what happens.
For we all know how partial we really are. I know that I only love hurricanes when my property is not threatened, that my understanding of any given thing depends on my interests. We are naturally afraid of freedom because we fear our neighbors may oppose us, do things we don’t like, that the future may unfold in highly unpredictable ways we cannot control. But so long as individual liberty is guaranteed, competing partial interests will have to sell themselves to the people. They will have no large, threatening institutional power impose on them, to silence dissent.
Where individual liberty reigns there is no personal god, only a faith that the human spirit will reveal itself to be, on balance, a beneficial one.