The Prelator

Weblog of Patrick McKay

Posts Tagged ‘Heritage Foundation’

Global Warming Scientists: “You Will Adapt to Serve Us”

Posted by darklordofdebate on December 15, 2009

Over the last few weeks, I have been following the recent developments regarding global warming and the so-called “climate-gate” with somewhat bemused interest. On the eve of the Copenhagen conference, which is being billed by global warming advocates as the greatest climate change summit of all time and the last best hope for our planet, an unknown hacker manages to steal a hundred megabytes worth of emails from a climate research unit which appears to show climate researchers cooking the books to “hide the decline” and squelch skeptics. Now honestly, I don’t know what to think of these particular emails. I’m sure if I really wanted to, I could hack into someone’s email and find a few out-of-context quotes to make them look suspicious too. Whatever these emails ultimately mean, I highly doubt they actually prove the existence of some vast scientific conspiracy to hoodwink the world into believing climate change is real. If their is any fraud in climate research, a more likely explanation is simple bias caused by politically motivated funding of research, rather than a deliberate conspiracy.

The real problem here is the politicization of science in the first place. After the climate-gate incident, I read numerous news articles talking about how poll numbers of people who believe climate change is real showed substantial drops, primarily among Republicans. In these articles, there were many quotes from scientists lamenting the fact that the existence of human-caused climate change is a political issue, subject to the latest opinion polls and the whims of the uneducated populace. I lament this too, but for a different reason. The reason global warming has become a political issue (besides the aforementioned funding issues) is because it long ago ceased to be about science and is now primarily a policy debate. Instead of sticking with what they do best, making observations, crunching numbers, and concocting theories, scientists have strayed far out of their usual realm and have directly entered the world of policy debate.

It’s one thing for scientists to tell us that climate change is occurring; it’s quite another for them to attempt to dictate the exact ways in which to solve this alleged “problem.” When scientists stop being scientists and start proposing policies like politicians, is it any wonder that science becomes politicized? It would be one thing if they just laid out the facts and gave a few possible solutions, then stepped back and let governments debate the best course of action in a rational manner that takes into account all the pros and cons. But they have not done this. Instead, scientists and global warming advocates have put all their eggs in one basket, dogmatically clinging to drastic global carbon emission cuts as the one and only way to solve the problem. Then they come up with doomsday scenarios of rising sea levels, flooded cities, famines, plagues, wars etc. in an attempt to claim that unless the world takes immediate action to reduce carbon emissions to pre-industrial levels, it’s the end of the world as we know it. Such scare tactics are nothing more than the clear tactics of petty demagogues to incite fear and motivate action out of a false sense of urgency.

Never mind the fact that such reductions in carbon emissions will come at the cost of trillions of dollars and millions of lost jobs. Never mind the fact that they would require nearly a complete reordering of the global economy to accomplish. Never mind the fact that even if these reductions are possible, they would only reduce global temperatures by a few fractions of a degree at most. To the global warming evangelists, it has become a cardinal sin to engage in even the most basic types of cost-benefit analysis when it comes to taking steps to mitigate global warming. Instead, they expect unquestioning allegiance to whatever plans they propose, no matter what the cost, because we owe it to “the planet.”

Many people over the last few weeks have remarked the climate change has become almost a sort of religion. Indeed the similarities are striking. You have a large movement of people motivated by a pseudo-religious fervor, passionately accepting whatever their leaders tell them through blind faith, while speaking in vagaries about “taking action” and bringing hope and salvation to mankind. They are on a crusade to “save the planet” motivated by some sort of quasi-pantheistic love of “nature,” which they are devoted to at all costs in an endless quest to atone for the “sins” of mankind in polluting the Earth with our very presence. For such people, their entire lives have become bound up in this cause, and there is no price too great to pay to achieve it.

What is ultimately needed in the climate change debate is to cut through the extremist rhetoric on both sides and make an honest evaluation of our options. Let’s say for the sake of argument that climate change really is occurring, and that it is in fact caused by humans. Ultimately yes, in the long term we will probably want to reduce carbon emissions to prevent the problem from increasing. But is the threat really so bad as to mandate such drastic actions as are currently being proposed in the Copenhagen treaty and in President Obama’s cap-and-trade bill? What is the threat exactly? Probably the worst effect most commonly cited is rising sea levels, but according to the Heritage Foundation, “Even the United Nation’s 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (putting aside for a moment the Climategate-fueled concerns that this study is overly alarmist) projects 7 to 23 inches of sea level rise by century’s end.”

Okay, so the oceans might rise two feet in the next 100 years. Is that really worth spending trillions of dollars of government funds, millions of jobs lost, massively higher energy costs, and a greatly decreased standard of living for every person on Earth, or at least the developed world? I’ve got another idea. Why don’t we just adapt to climate change instead? Surely 100 years is enough time to build sea walls or dikes protecting low lying cities that could be threatened with flooding. Sure there are other problems posed by climate change as well, but if we see the problem coming this far in advance, we should be able to come up with some way to simply adapt to the immediate problems posed by global warming while waiting for technologies to be developed that offer a more permanent solution, without bankrupting every country on Earth and effecting a total restructuring of the global economy to get there. Climate change policies should not be immune to cost-benefit analysis, and if the costs of a proposed policy far outweigh the potential benefits it should be rejected. This is something that climate change advocates have so far refused to even consider.

Rather than carrying on with end-of-world predictions and dogmatic insistence that their way is the only way to solve this problem, global warming advocates need to be open to alternate solutions, including ones which leave carbon emissions untouched for the present and focus on adapting to a changed climate instead. Perhaps if we acknowledged that it simply is not feasible to reduce carbon emissions to pre-industrial levels *right now* (at least without reverting to a pre-industrial society), and focused on a more practical solution that doesn’t demand such great sacrifices in the name of a problem we are still not sure even exists, we could actually get somewhere. But until climate change advocates are willing to compromise and stop insisting that the entire world bow to their every demand, that is not going to happen, and the only result they’ll ever produce is a string of failed treaties like Kyoto and a swath of economic devastation in their wake. Is that really worth it?

Posted in Climate Change, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Why Conservatives Should Support Net Neutrality

Posted by darklordofdebate on September 23, 2009

With the FCC’s recent announcement that they will turn their broad principles of network neutrality into specific rules, I thought I would post about one of my long standing pet peeves–the fact that most conservatives don’t support this concept. I first became passionate about the issue of net neutrality in the spring of my freshman year in college (2006), when I went on a lobbying trip to DC with our College Republican’s group. We were working with the libertarian advocacy group FreedomWorks, and while I agreed with most of the things they had us advocating, I was shocked and disappointed to find we were supposed to lobby AGAINST a net neutrality bill then before Congress. At that point I had only a cursory understanding of the issue, but I was surprised that they would advocate against enforcing the basic openness and platform neutrality that the Internet is built on. When I asked one of FreedomWork’s employee’s about it, I was shocked to hear him rhapsodize about how wonderful it would be if Internet Service Providers (ISPs) could divide the Internet into “channels” and offer Internet service in “packages” of available websites like cable TV! After all, he said, the ISPs owned the networks, so they should be free to do whatever they want with them.

It was then I realized that a lot of conservatives simply don’t get what the network neutrality debate is about, and how allowing that man’s “vision” for the future of the Internet to come to pass would completely destroy everything that makes the Internet what it is. So this post will be dedicated to explaining network neutrality in terms my fellow conservatives can understand, specifically the key conservative values of limited government, individual freedom, competition, checks and balances, and property rights.

Limited Government

Perhaps the central idea of American conservatism is the concept of limited government. Every conservative can tell you that big government = bad, and explain at length the mechanisms the Founders built into our Constitution to limit the power of the federal government. But do they ever ask why the Founder’s wanted to limit the government’s power? I’ll give you a hint. The key word in that question is not government, but, power. The Founders advocated limited government not because government was inherently evil, but because they feared the centralization of power in a relatively small body of people. And it’s my contention that this is what conservatives should fear today–not “big government” but “centralized power” in any form. That should be especially true of “coercive power,” the ability to compel obedience by force.

It used to be that, as libertarians love to say, government had a monopoly on coercive power. That is no longer the case. In the modern world, technology has given large corporations a great deal of coercive power–more than many governments ever had in the past. This power comes not through the threat of prison if you disobey them (though in many cases the law gives them that power as well, though indirectly), but through technology that can control exactly what we can or cannot do, even with our own property. And unlike government laws, rules that are enforced by technology enforce absolute compliance, with no option to disobey because technology makes it impossible. While government laws say, “you shall not,” the laws of technology say, “you cannot.” This is what Lawrence Lessig calls “architectures of control,” and it is this power that modern technology corporations wield over their customers. It is that kind of power which MUST BE LIMITED if we are to maintain a free society.

Individual Freedom

Nowhere is the power of corporations to restrict individual freedom more apparent than with ISPs, who control our access to that great engine of culture and commerce we know as the Internet. It’s simply a fact of life in modern society that you must have Internet access. Without it, your quality of life becomes severely diminished and you are incapable of doing many things essential to everyday life.

Yet your ISP, if it chooses to do so, is capable of exercising tremendous power over your ability to access this crucial resource. If it wants to, it can block websites, degrade service, or give preference to some websites and restrict access to others. In short, there is no end to the amount of arbitrary ways your ISP could interfere with your free use of the Internet if it wanted to–and believe me, ISPs want to. The possible new revenue streams from interfering with their customers’ free access to the Internet and forcing either the customers or third parties to pay for the freedoms we currently enjoy without paying extra are endless. Just think about how much Borders would pay your ISP to only allow you to access their site and not Amazon, or how much Ebay would pay so you couldn’t access Craigslist. Without network neutrality laws, all of this is legal. The only thing that has prevented these things from happening on a large scale already is social pressure from neutrality advocates.

Competition

Now at this point, a good conservative will say, “what about competition?” Surely that will keep these things from happening. To which I reply, “what competition?” Broadband Internet is for the most part a natural monopoly. Since it would be impractical to have a dozen different companies running cables to your house, local governments grant monopolies to certain companies to provide Internet service.

In most places in the US, this results in a duopoly between the government-granted cable company monopoly and the government-granted phone company monopoly.  There is some competition between the two, but typically not much, which is why US broadband growth has effectively stagnated and the US is currently ranked something like 30th or 40th in broadband penetration. And if both Internet providers in a given area had sufficient economic incentive to restrict their customer’s access to the Internet, they would both do it. The consumer would thus be stuck with severely restricted Internet limited only to their ISP’s “preferred partners.” The only “competition” would be that Cox allows you to access CNN while Verizon allows Fox News.

Check’s and Balances

At this point, I hope a true conservative would see that we cannot allow anyone, be they government or private corporations, to exercise this kind of power. The Founding Fathers established a system of checks and balances to prevent any one branch of the government from becoming too powerful. In this day and age, when corporations can also exercise tremendous power over individual citizens, we need checks and balances to hold them accountable as well, and the government is the best suited entity to do it.

Many people object that net neutrality would open the door to government regulation of the Internet. Well I’ve got news for you. The government already regulates the Internet! Local governments grant monopolies to broadband providers. Various federal agencies enforce standards for electronics related to the Internet and regulate online commerce. And the FBI enforces laws against distributing child pornography on the Internet, which I think all but the most die-hard libertarians would agree is a good thing. And don’t even get me started on how government laws about patents and copyrights regulate the Internet. The truth is, the government will always regulate the Internet. The only questions are how much and whether it will do so for good or for evil.

The argument about net neutrality setting off a slippery slope of government regulation is simply a straw man. Net neutrality is not about regulating the Internet anymore than current laws already do. It’s simply about laying down ground rules that preserve the open nature of the Internet that all the innovation that has taken place online up to this point relies on. As the FCC chairman recently said, it’s merely about enshrining in law the basic “rules of the road” which already implicitly exist. Net neutrality is about preserving competition, not destroying it.

Property Rights

The final conservative argument against net neutrality I will address is that of property rights. This argument basically goes, “Since ISP’s own the pipes, they should be allowed to control what flows over them.” On it’s face, it seems like a common-sense argument. Since ISPs do own the physical infrastructure of the Internet, shouldn’t they be able to control how it is used? Maybe. But the Internet is much more than the vast array of routers, hubs, fiber optic cables, data centers, and servers that form its physical backbone. In reality, the Internet is a virtual world, an engine of commerce, society, and culture that brings people together from every part of the planet and is far greater than the mere sum of its parts. It is the single greatest machine ever built by mankind–one that spans the entire planet and abolishes the limitations of the physical world.

People speak of “cyberspace” and “realspace” as if they are two completely separate wolds, which, though closely linked, have completely separate existences. In a way that’s true. Because even though it is dependent on its physical infrastructure, the Internet has taken on an existence of its own which transcends its physical parts. This virtual wold is a true commons, in that no single entity can claim ownership of it and anyone is allowed to access any part of it they wish. Different people own small parts of it, but no one actually owns all of it, and thus no one can completely control it.

Based on this, what right does any individual ISP have to say that because they own the physical infrastructure which gives a certain number of people access to this virtual world, they have the power to control what parts of it people see or what they can do there? That would be to claim ownership over something they have no right to. Gatekeepers to this world have the right to do only one thing–let people in or keep them out. Once they are in, they have no right to say what you can do inside of it anymore than the airline I fly on to Chicago has the authority to tell me what I can do in Chicago. They are just the conduit, nothing more.

ISP’s thus have a right to charge you in exchange for giving you access to the Internet and to manage their networks in a way to insure fair access for all. But to attempt to interfere with the basic nature of cyberspace itself and their users’ experience there is utterly beyond their moral rights to control their property, and becomes a unjustifed interference with individual freedom. And just as laws in other areas prevent people from infringing on the rights of others, so must laws protect the rights of Internet users from unjust interference by their ISPs.

That is the reason conservatives should support network neutrality laws, and why I applaud the FCC for its decision to enact formal rules enforcing it.

Posted in Law, Politics, Technology, Technology Law | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »