Climate Change Science and Libertarian Philosophy

At times over the past few years I have heard or read someone making the assertion that denying Climate Change Science was either in some way part of or logically derived from Libertarian philosophy. I have decided to write a blog post explaining the situation.

The simple point is that the Libertarian philosophy has nothing to say about the accuracy of any aspect of Climate Change Science either in agreement or disagreement. There is no Libertarian position on Climate Change Science because the accuracy or inaccuracy of Climate Change Science is not a Libertarian issue just as there is not a Libertarian position on Punctuated Equilibrium or String Theory. Questions about Climate Change Science are properly addressed by persons who can apply specialized knowledge in the various branches of physics, chemistry and other fields to the study of the climate, oceans, etc.

Consider the two statements: 'I was talking to someone who said they were a Libertarian and they said that String Theory is true' and 'I was talking to someone who said they were a Libertarian and they said that String Theory is false'. Neither of these statements tell us anything about the Libertarian philosophy because there is no way to derive a position about whether String Theory is true or false from Libertarian philosophy. And anyone who claims that they can derive a position on either String Theory or Climate Change Science from the Libertarian philosophy is just misguided. The Libertarian philosophy is not engaged in doing physics, chemistry or similar matters rather it uses their outputs. The Libertarian Philosophy deals with issues of liberty and human interaction. So no matter what institute, politician or random person starts on about how the Libertarian philosophy leads to positions about Climate Change Science they can just be considered as mistaken and uninformed.

Now it is possible for someone to ask that even though a position either denying or affirming the current state of Climate Change Science can not be derived from Libertarian Philosophy what opinions do Libertarians hold? That is difficult to answer for many reasons not the least of which is even agreeing on who is and who is not a Libertarian. For example I am a Libertarian but I am not a member of the Libertarian Party and I am not a Ron Paul supporter. As far as I know there has been no well developed credible polling to determine the opinions of well informed Libertarians on Climate Change Science or String Theory or any similar issue probably because as I said these are not Libertarian issues and possibly because Libertarians are a difficult to sample group. Certainly Climate Change Science has greater potential consequences for humans on this planet so it would be a more important poll than String Theory. However I did find based on my personal observations on a Libertarian email list most on the list who stated an opinion tended to accept the current Climate Change Science. How much this limited sample generalizes I do not know.

However this still leaves the question of why does this confusion arise. I do not have a complete explanation but I have a couple of observations which when linked together might explain part of the situation. The first observation is that there are a bunch of people claiming to be Libertarian when they are not and this is particularly bothersome because often these people have only a shallow and often incorrect knowledge of Libertarian philosophy. Queue the Dunning–Kruger effect because these people often tend to be vocal. It is often difficult to easily distinguish between those you are merely uniformed and those who are being deliberately deceptive. However both my experience and my desire is that what is being observed is a lack of knowledge rather than a lack of honesty.

The second observation is that unfortunaly science issues have been and continue to be politicized often by those who see a particular scientific development as a convenient way to advance a political position or as a threat to a political position. In either case it is inappropriate. For example it is inappropriate to proclaim that climate change science is correct because of a political position desiring a particular type of government control of the energy industry. And it is equally inappropriate to proclaim that Climate Change Science is incorrect because a political position of wanting a different type of control over the energy industry. Unfortunately when one side of a political disagreement attempts to take the accuracy or inaccuracy of some science question out of the science arena and into the political arena then the temptation is for the other side of the argument to respond in kind. T think that perhaps this is part but certainly not all of what we are seeing now.

The obvious extension of point above is that questions of the accuracy or inaccuracy of any part of Climate Change Science should not be considered as deriving from any political philosophy. Science and political philosophy are distinct endeavors; political philosophy might utilize the knowledge generated by science but it does not determine that knowledge.  And of course science is not always perfect but it is more likely to be self-correcting if politics is kept out of the process.

At this point the reader might be wondering why end with the point about science and political philosophy instead of starting with a discussion of science and political philosophy as a general point and then noting that Libertarian philosophy is a particular case of political philosophy. One reason I took the approach that I did was that I felt it might be more engaging for the reader to start with the specific rather than the general case.

Readers will notice that I have used the term Climate Change Science rather than the more common term Climate Change. The reason for this is that I wanted to very specifically distinguish between the science question of what is happening "Climate Change Science" and the policy recommendations and responses which I refer to as "Climate Change Response Policy". These are two different activities. Certainly "Climate Change Response Policy" will use the knowledge generated by "Climate Change Science" but "Climate Change Response Policy" will also utilize anthropology, sociology, business, economics, all of the other appropriate scholarly fields and yes this is where political philosophy is included.

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