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Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management 
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Post Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management
Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management

Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged tells a story of how innovative profitable technology is greeted with hostility. Hank Rearden, owner of Rearden Steel, invents a new alloy that is lighter and stronger than existing metals. His competitors collude with government to stop Rearden Metal from gaining market share. They make business very tough for Rearden, introducing regulations to steal his intellectual property, and justify their actions through vacuous moralizing in the press. They seek to turn the general public against Rearden, suggesting that sharing ideas and resources is fairer than allowing one firm to prosper, and that weak firms need to be protected against market forces. The predictable result is economic stagnation, the stifling of innovation, reduced production and ever more intrusive government control of industry.

How might this scenario relate to climate change? Ayn Rand was no environmentalist. She exulted in the transformation of nature to meet human goals, especially through mining and manufacturing. However, the present situation for the global climate has some similarities to the story of Atlas Shrugged, making Rand’s vision of how political scheming can prevent capitalist innovation rather prophetic.

Climate change is the biggest single threat to planetary security. The Arctic Ocean, previously impassable due to sea ice, is melting faster than the worst scientific predictions. In September 2012, when science had said there should be seven million square kilometres of sea ice, the measured ice area was only 3.3 million square kilometres, less than half the expected amount. Unknown feedback loops are kicking into action, bringing dangerous global risks. Ice reflects sunlight back to space, whereas open water holds the solar heat. Without a polar ice cap, the historic stability of planetary climate is imperilled by the greenhouse effect. Emergency technological response is urgently needed.

Atlas Shrugged is based on the myth of the titan Atlas holding the earth on his shoulders. Rand argues that capitalism creates the wealth which politics then distributes. Society rests on the shoulders of business. If the business Atlas shrugs, society is plunged into turmoil, lacking the tax base for welfare payments. But what if the natural environment that provides the resources for business shrugs? It would wreak economic havoc and bring social upheaval. The Greek myth of Atlas is only part of the metaphor we need. As the old lady asked the scientist, what is Atlas standing on?

Another older myth, from India, is helpful as a metaphor for the climate situation. In this myth, the earth rests on the back of several elephants, which in turn stand on the back of a giant turtle. If we consider the elephants as like Atlas, as a metaphor for business creating the wealth that supports social distribution, then the elephants are themselves supported by the natural planet, as their sustainable resource base. In this metaphor, the current business-as-usual approach to the world climate has the elephants asphyxiating the turtle with carbon dioxide. If the turtle turns belly-up as a result, the elephants will lose their footing. That is worse than a shrug.

So what are we doing about climate? This is where Atlas Shrugged reads as a prophetic parable. An American firm, Planktos Incorporated, recently supported a bold scientific experiment in the Pacific Ocean by indigenous communities in collaboration with Canadian authorities. Recognising we need to think big and try innovative experiments to stabilise the climate, the experiment generated an artificial algae bloom at sea by adding a large amount of iron to the water. Algae is by far the fastest growing plant species. This iron method is initially aimed at supporting the salmon fishery, but it also aims to find the quickest and cheapest possible way to suck CO2 out of the air. Initially, the removed carbon may be eligible for carbon credits, making the experiment potentially profitable for Planktos, while also doing good for the salmon, their fishers, the ocean and the climate.

Down the track, if large scale algae production at sea can be controlled industrially, the produced algae will deliver oil, protein and carbohydrate. These commodities are feedstock for fuel, food, fertilizer and fabric. 71% of our planet surface is ocean. 0.1% of this area could be enough to stabilise the global climate through controlled algae production.

Fish stocks are under unprecedented pressure. Algae production can mimic the natural algae blooms which support the most abundant fisheries, helping to address global food security. Algae oil can provide energy, with potential to replace coal and petroleum in existing electricity and transport infrastructure, helping to address global energy security. Algae production is among the most innovative areas of commercial research today. Numerous firms are studying algae as a likely main future fuel source, with real potential to mine carbon from the air once cost-effective methods are developed. The potential is somewhat like Rand’s imagined energy technology invented by her hero John Galt.

So what was the reaction to the Planktos experiment? Here is where the apocalyptic conflict of Atlas Shrugged starts to look like social realism. The British Guardian newspaper led the charge. It seems Planktos are to be demonised as evil criminals. Not only are they motivated by, wait for it, “profit”, but their method, in the warped Guardian worldview, means we might not have to make lifestyle sacrifices to save the planet through emission reduction. Shock, horror, the Planktos test points towards a potential for capitalist innovation to stabilise the world climate. They must be stopped at all costs, or they might show that economic growth is sustainable! So The Guardian joined some likely suspects, the United Nations crowd who have given us that blinding climate success story, the Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto may be a dithering farce that has watched over the exponential emission increases of the last decades. but no matter, its methods are like a religious icon, and they most certainly do not include anything that smells like geoengineering.

In came the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Without evidence of harm, or consideration of how this iron seeding method might be good for fish, fishing and the climate, they have furiously sought to criminalise this small-scale experiment under international law. We can’t have private firms profiting from fixing the climate or it would put bureaucrats out of jobs! Capitalism can’t be allowed to succeed where international command and control systems of the UN have failed! Consider the uproar if Planktos proves superior to the feeble UN models that have proven incapable of slowing global warming. Surely IUCN and the CBD could never support a climate initiative that might conserve nature and protect biological diversity? Quelle horreur!! Getting back to Ayn Rand, these UN bodies are behaving like the idiotic cartels described in Atlas Shrugged, using political power to stifle innovation.

Republican former Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is one prominent politician who has expressed support for experiments to use technology to manage the global climate. Gingrich is demonised by the left at a similar intensity as Ayn Rand, because he exposes how reliance on government is incapable of delivering results. It would be interesting to ask Newt, and Mitt Romney, what they think of the Planktos-supported experiment. If it points to a way to make business-as-usual ecologically sustainable, they should be all for it. The business David is up against the UN Goliath. With Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan making Atlas Shrugged compulsory reading for his staff, this application of Rand’s ideas in the contemporary scene ought to be of some interest.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Wed Oct 24, 2012 1:42 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management
I like your placing the rugged capitalist against the bureaucrats in this story, hadn't thought of it that way. But this is not the case of a manufacturer releasing a breakthrough new product. The Planktos experiment is tweaking the environment. Seems like that activity does need to be controlled. What if that experiment was using a different method to prevent making "lifestyle sacrifices", say attempting to increase albedo by increasing the cloud cover and so cooling the earth - not everyone would be thrilled with that. However it will be interesting to see if the experiment succeeds, if carbon is sequestered, etc.



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Post Re: Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management
Robert Tulip wrote:
Rand argues that capitalism creates the wealth which politics then distributes.


No, what Ayn Rand argues for is for laissez-faire capitalism, where there is a separation between State and economics. People create wealth and they decide where their own money goes, not politics redistributing it. She is absolutely opposed to such redistribution of wealth.

What she argues for, would look like this:
http://principlesofafreesociety.com/
http://capitalism.org/


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Post Re: Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management
Hi Mr A, welcome to Booktalk. Thanks for your comment.

You have misunderstood my statement. I was describing Rand's description of what she calls the world of the looters, not her suggestion of how things ought to work. She proposes to replace this world of political looting (redistribution) by a world of production. As I went on to say next, "Society rests on the shoulders of business. If the business Atlas shrugs, society is plunged into turmoil, lacking the tax base for welfare payments."

I agree with you that Rand does not support this socialist function of politics. But Atlas Shrugged contains extensive description of this process, and that was the context of my remark. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.


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Post Re: Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management
Quote:
No, what Ayn Rand argues for is for laissez-faire capitalism, where there is a separation between State and economics.


This is why Objectivists come across as religious nutjobs to me. There must be some policing of any economic system, and there must be redistribution of wealth. Pretending otherwise is an ideology divorced from the way the world works.

I also wonder about the separation of the state and science. Ideological absolutes fail because they can't account for the exceptions. Sure, let's shut down Darpa. But let's keep the funding that leads to findings which increase human flourishing, and which increases our standing in worldwide education rankings. I personally like Darpa, however.


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Post Re: Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management
"Wealth" is always redistributed, it is just a question of how and under what sort of philosophy or belief system. Wealth is redistributed in Somalia, gravitating towards those with AK-47's. It is currently being redistributed in the US and Canada, away from the middle class, and towards the ultra rich, with the bottom mostly stagnant. The idea of a prefect market place is a myth that has been strenuously promoted by those that have something to gain by deregulation, and a generally low tax, low service government. Indeed, it is hard to believe that there are still some who worship at this alter after the crash of '08, and the laying bare of the distortions of a "free" market, untainted by regulation or tax policy. Assigning wealth to its owner in today's society will also always include a degree of subjectivity, as almost nothing occurs in isolation, but is an end product of numerous factors, some of which have been paid for, and some of which have been handed over gratis by the larger society, and some of which have been subtracted from the environment, with an I.O.U. nailed to the nearest tree.


http://focusonline.ca/?q=node/441


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Post Re: Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management
Interbane wrote:

This is why Objectivists come across as religious nutjobs to me.


Why the ad hominem?

Quote:
There must be some policing of any economic system, and there must be redistribution of wealth. Pretending otherwise is an ideology divorced from the way the world works.


Why do you say that there MUST be. By what standard? Do you think such sacrificing is moral? Do you think it is right for someone to take what another has earned, and give some of it to someone that has not earned it? By what right does anyone have to do such a thing?


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Post Re: Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management
Quote:
Why the ad hominem?


That's not an ad hominem, technically. It's an insult. It's an emotional outburst because of the futility of not being able to able to explain in detail to half the nation why they're on the wrong track.

Quote:
Why do you say that there MUST be. By what standard? Do you think such sacrificing is moral?


By the standard of fairness I say there must be policing of an economic standard. So, it's not a MUST unless you want the system to be fair.

Quote:
Do you think such sacrificing is moral?


What are you labeling a sacrifice? Compulsory taxation with the intent of redistribution? You'll have to connect the dots between what you're saying and the definition of the word. It's not a sacrifice.

Quote:
Do you think it is right for someone to take what another has earned, and give some of it to someone that has not earned it?


No. Do you think your question embodies my position? Do you think financial CEO's "earned" the king's ransom they recieved after their role in the meltdown of 2008? How about the ones who received such bonuses after firing many employees for the sake of 'keeping the company afloat'? No, MrA, they did not earn that money. If you think they did, please explain what you mean by "earn".

The benefit of giving to someone who hasn't earned it is that they will SPEND it. If you want to stimulate the economy, don't give tax breaks to the rich. Give it to the bottom feeders who will spend every penny of it. If you give it to the top, history has indicated that the economy will suffer. This makes sense, as the extra money will be banked, rather than spent.

Demand precedes supply. Supply has value according to demand. When you redistribute downwards, you feed directly into increasing demand. History has shown that the economy does better. This raises all boats. Tax breaks to the rich do not stimulate the economy.

Fortunately, most people in poverty are seeking to rise above it, rather than content on bottom-feeding, so the counterargument of too large a moral hazard doesn't work.

Quote:
By what right does anyone have to do such a thing?


There's another side to redistribution. Much of what the wealthiest people make, they did not "earn" as we understand the word. They are not producing anything of value, but instead are using loopholes and gimmicks. What this amounts to is that people's efforts in some cases aren't towards the production of goods or services, but are instead attempts to redirect existing wealth in their direction. This is known as rent-seeking.

Regardless of who is to blame for the rent-seeking opportunities, it answers your question. When people acquire wealth through ways that do not benefit society or the free market, it is fair to redistribute that wealth.

In many cases, it's the government that is responsible for such rent-seeking opportunities. This has been increasingly the case since the 1970, when started the rightward policy drift that are the cause of recent economic volatility. This drift is self-reinforcing, as lobbying produces wealth based off rent-seeking, more lobbying is then funded. Lobbying works, it's very effective. Our government is a misshapen hydra because of it, allowing the richest of us to pay less in effective taxes than many of the middle class, and giving out subsidies to industries that certainly don't need them.

Regulation is also so terrible in some areas that I think we ought to start over from scratch. The differential selection of eliminating or altering regulation through lobbying leaves us with a regulation system that does more harm in some cases than good. It's a neutered system, staffed in many cases by people loyal to those they regulate. Some people see a single link in the chain of cause and effect, not understanding the concept of a chain. The problems of bad, under-enforced, or corrupted regulation are in turn caused by something else, which should be obvious. Yet some nutjobs claim we should throw out the baby with the bath water. Instead of focusing our mental efforts on solving the CAUSE of the problem, people are content to point a finger at one of the myriad symptoms.

In this way, right wing politicians have increasingly become like drug salesmen. They sell you a drug that only cures the symptom, so that they can continue to sell the drug. If the cure the disease that causes the symptom, they lose profit. A symptom of policy drift and lobbying is ineffective and corrupt regulation. Blaming the symptom rather than the disease means you're an ideal customer for their wares.


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Post Re: Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management
Mr A wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
Rand argues that capitalism creates the wealth which politics then distributes.


No, what Ayn Rand argues for is for laissez-faire capitalism, where there is a separation between State and economics. People create wealth and they decide where their own money goes, not politics redistributing it. She is absolutely opposed to such redistribution of wealth.

What she argues for, would look like this:
http://principlesofafreesociety.com/
http://capitalism.org/


When President Nixon, and advisor Henry Kissinger decided to open relations with China way back in the '70's, did they "create wealth"? If administrations since had kept up an adversial stance, there may not have been the trade relations we see today, and hence the "wealth" that has registered since then.

When the Fed raises or lowers interest rates, do they "create wealth", by the resultant economic activity?

Weath "creation" is a function of political, environmental, social, demographic, technological, historical, and probably a score of other factors, and those in places of business leadership occupy only a modest fraction of said spectrum.

One could argue with some authority at the present time that "wealth destruction" can be attributed to the business community in large measure. Many billions were erased from the stock and real estate markets by the underhanded and self-serving machinations of the business community in 2008.

There is no separation between state and economics. That is a myth; something for fictional novels such as Atlas Shrugged, but not something grounded in reality.

In democratic societies, we hold the power to decide were wealth goes, and why, even if this has been obscured to a large degree by the sort of uber-right spin that is afoot today. It's a power that some need to better understand, and some need to take back.


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Post Re: Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management
Interbane, Rand thinks that a person who has earned their money, it is theirs by right. And being so, they decide what to do with it. This goes for anyone who has earned money, created wealth, made money, financial gains, capital gains, inherited money, money given to them... its all theirs, to do what they want to with. The government is not to redistribute ANY penny of it. No one has a claim on that money, but you. Others needs are not a claim on it. Its your by right. CEO pay, janitor pay, professors salary... its all theirs by right. Someone who invested in stocks, funds, markets... their capital gains are theirs, by right.

She is only against those that steal money from others through force or fraud, through taxation and the like.


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Post Re: Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management
etudiant, you said,

"When the Fed raises or lowers interest rates, do they "create wealth", by the resultant economic activity?"

What they do is violate rights when they do that. In Rands laissez faire capitalism, there would be no governmental control over interest rates in the first place, the government would also have no control over the money supply either. This means no inflation, manipulation of currency. Rand is also for the gold standard.


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Post Re: Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management
The conversation has drifted a bit from the point of the thread, which was to say that Ayn Rand's ideas actually do offer something of value in assessing how the private sector can help to address climate change. But that's okay, because we have moved on to the related important question of what Rand actually said and how she is interpreted, which can be two different things.

My impression is that so-called Objectivists (Exhibit A The Koch Bros) take Rand’s argument of support for private enterprise and then consider it a free pass regardless of facts. There is no doubt there is a political class war between representatives based on the rich and on the poor, and Rand has naturally been enlisted on the side of the rich. But we have to remember her focus on facts and evidence. When her work is used for propaganda, it can readily be distorted, especially where advocates have little interest in facts, as in the petrochemical industry attitude to global warming and CO2 emissions.

One thing at issue here is who owns the wealth from work. Atlas Shrugged is a polemic against the theft of value by people who don't deserve it from people who produce it. She argues against the Marxist labour theory of value – which holds that input of effort produces surplus – by saying that mind is the key to value. When need becomes the criterion for distribution, incentives are corrupted. This is a strong argument, but very complex.

My favourite example of the complexity of wealth creation and distribution is the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 25, where the capitalist parable of the talents (to those who have will be given) is juxtaposed with the communist Last Judgment (find Christ among the least). It seems to me that Jesus is saying that works of mercy can only be funded by economic growth through capitalist incentive.

In the case of CO2 emissions, there is a problem in restricting value to the product of ideas. When a business treats natural resources as a free gift, eg air and water, it is actually stealing something that belongs to everyone. In principle, the cost of production should include a contribution for the externalities that are destroyed. This is where government regulation and taxation to protect public property is essential. I am not sure if Rand even acknowledges there is such a thing as public property. Her focus is purely on private property rights, because she sees these rights trampled by neo-communist ideology.

The objectivists who use Rand to advocate privatisation of all wealth are misguided - common wealth has to be sustained as a public good. However, sustaining common wealth relies on private ideas. Rand was right about that.


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Post Re: Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management
To get back on topic, I will gather up some information about the application of Rands ideas to climate change, environmentalism. Give Objectivist perspective on it. Just allow me some time to gather it up. Whether or not one agrees, the important thing for me is to present that perspective in doing this. Get Rand right, get her ideas right, what she says right, is of primary importance in discussing her, in agreeing or disagreeing with her.

Much has been written applying Objectivism, Rands ideas to environmentalism, many op-eds here:

http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer? ... mal_rights
http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/exp ... or-die.asp


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Last edited by Mr A on Fri Nov 02, 2012 12:58 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management
:welcome:
Welcome Mr. A! You appear to be a true believer/Objectivist if you will :-P which should benefit the discussion as stated in your last sentence.

Mr. Tulip said My impression is that so-called Objectivists (Exhibit A The Koch Bros) take Rand’s argument of support for private enterprise and then consider it a free pass regardless of facts.

Yes, the starting point of Objectivism is literally "A equals A". That doesn't make a lot of common sense other than to broadcast the message that Objectivists stand on a certain principle and couldn't care less about the consequences because the starting principle is Infallible :wink: and therefore absolutely nothing can be compromised.

Mr. Tulip said When a business treats natural resources as a free gift, eg air and water, it is actually stealing something that belongs to everyone.

Yes, I'm sure our environment would be much healthier if we had recognized this 100 years earlier than 1960.
:yeahright:



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Post Re: Ayn Rand and Global Climate Management
LanDroid, the starting point in Objectivism is not A is A, it is the axiomatic concepts of existence, consciousness, identity. They form axioms: Existence exists, consciousness is conscious, A is A.


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