On the other hand, I'm extremely skeptical of the concept of "catastrophic" global warming. The idea that man cannot adapt to changes in temperature occurring over the course of centuries during a time of extremely rapid technological innovation seems very, very unlikely to me. Anything's possible, but if I have to place my bet, I'm willing to be very heavily against it.
I also can't help but feel that some of the hysteria regarding warming is intentionally stoked and at least partly sinister. Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who has some serious experience with totalitarianism, seems to also detect the same sort of thing. Here's an excerpt from a recent question and answer session he gave to the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress, Committee on Energy and Commerce:
The – so called – climate change and especially man-made climate change has become one of the most dangerous arguments aimed at distorting human efforts and public policies in the whole world.Totalitarians in green clothing. That's what I see too. They'll go to any length, fabricate any story, latch on to and distort any kernel of truth to try and derail the extended order and attain power for themselves (and for the supposed good of humankind).
My ambition is not to bring additional arguments to the scientific climatological debate about this phenomenon. I am convinced, however, that up to now this scientific debate has not been deep and serious enough and has not provided sufficient basis for the policymakers’ reaction. What I am really concerned about is the way the environmental topics have been misused by certain political pressure groups to attack fundamental principles underlying free society. It becomes evident that while discussing climate we are not witnessing a clash of views about the environment but a clash of views about human freedom.
As someone who lived under communism for most of my life I feel obliged to say that the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity at the beginning of the 21st century is not communism or its various softer variants. Communism was replaced by the threat of ambitious environmentalism. This ideology preaches earth and nature and under the slogans of their protection – similarly to the old Marxists – wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central (now global) planning of the whole world.
The environmentalists consider their ideas and arguments to be an undisputable truth and use sophisticated methods of media manipulation and PR campaigns to exert pressure on policymakers to achieve their goals. Their argumentation is based on the spreading of fear and panic by declaring the future of the world to be under serious threat. In such an atmosphere they continue pushing policymakers to adopt illiberal measures, impose arbitrary limits, regulations, prohibitions, and restrictions on everyday human activities and make people subject to omnipotent bureaucratic decision-making. To use the words of Friedrich Hayek, they try to stop free, spontaneous human action and replace it by their own, very doubtful human design.
The environmentalist paradigm of thinking is absolutely static. They neglect the fact that both nature and human society are in a process of permanent change, that there is and has been no ideal state of the world as regards natural conditions, climate, distribution of species on earth, etc. They neglect the fact that the climate has been changing fundamentally throughout the existence of our planet and that there are proofs of substantial climate fluctuations even in known and documented history. Their reasoning is based on historically short and incomplete observations and data series which cannot justify the catastrophic conclusions they draw. They neglect the complexity of factors that determine the evolution of the climate and blame contemporary mankind and the whole industrial civilization for being the decisive factors responsible for climate change and other environmental risks.
By concentrating on the human contribution to the climate change the environmentalists ask for immediate political action based on limiting economic growth, consumption, or human behavior they consider hazardous. They do not believe in the future economic expansion of the society, they ignore the technological progress the future generations will enjoy, and they ignore the proven fact that the higher the wealth of society is, the higher is the quality of the environment.
The policymakers are pushed to follow this media-driven hysteria based on speculative and hard evidence lacking theories, and to adopt enormously costly programs which would waste scarce resources in order to stop the probably unstoppable climate changes, caused not by human behavior but by various exogenous and endogenous natural processes (such as fluctuating solar activity).
My answer to your first question, i.e. what should policymakers consider when addressing climate change, is that policymakers should under all circumstances stick to the principles free society is based on, that they should not transfer the right to choose and decide from the people to any advocacy group claiming that it knows better than the rest of the people what is good for them. Policymakers should protect taxpayers’ money and avoid wasting it on doubtful projects which cannot bring positive results.
Fortunately, just as with past totalitarian ideologies, I think that Americans are pretty resistant to succumbing to them. Hopefully, that resistance will continue.