by George Leef
If you can’t see the absurdity of drawing an analogy between the civil rights movement and the hysteria about climate change. In the letter below, Don Boudreaux attempts to explain it to a Washington Post columnist:
Editor, Washington Post
1150 15th St., NW
Washington, DC 20071
David Ignatius proposes that climate change be treated “as a moral issue – a matter like civil rights” (“The moral issue of climate change,” Nov. 19).
This comparison fails. The core concern that sparked the civil-rights movement was simple: government-mandated racial segregation and discrimination wrongly prevented each African-American from pursuing his or her life’s goals on equal footing with white Americans. Neither the existence nor the baleful effects of such barriers was ever in doubt. In addition, destroying these barriers was both a relatively straightforward procedure and, by any remotely acceptable ethical standards, unambiguously the right thing to do.
Climate change is completely different. Legitimate debate continues over the magnitude of impending temperature change and – despite the predictions of the novel that inspired Mr. Ignatius’s call for a moral crusade against climate change – debate continues over the likely consequences of any such change. Legitimate debate also rages over the effects of government efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
Ending Jim Crow simply got government out of the way of peaceful human interactions – interactions that build civilization. In contrast, empowering government to address climate change complicatedly puts government in the way of market interactions – interactions that have generated what Nobel economist Edmund Phelps calls “mass flourishing”* on a scale unprecedented in history. Given governments’ dubious record of intervening into economies – and given free markets’ impressive record of raising the living standards of ordinary people and of adapting to change – to fuel government efforts on the climate front with moral fervor would be a grave and dangerous error.
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics