Václav Klaus, the president of the Czech Republic, knows what it is like to live under a totalitarian government. He spent 41 years of his life under the repressive communist regime of Czechoslovakia. Ever since the peaceful Velvet Revolution in 1989, when his country ended the communists’ monopoly on power, Klaus has been an ardent defender of the dignity of the individual and a proponent of political and economic freedom.

Communism, like other 20th century ideological movements, promised a complete transformation of civil society and political structure in order to attain a higher purpose. The goal, in the case of communism, was material equality for all people. In order to accomplish this, leaders of the movement demanded a complete surrender of political and economic liberties, which the people often willingly granted. We have seen this pattern repeat itself in many countries, and not just in association with communist ideology. Nazis and fascists also called for individuals to submit to the state or the cause while relinquishing their freedom.

Klaus made a speech earlier this year commemorating the 60th anniversary of the communist take-over in Prague. He said that future threats to individual freedom will not always appear in the same manner. “The ideology will be different. Its essence will nevertheless be identical: the attractive, pathetic, at first sight noble idea that transcends the individual in the name of the common good and the enormous self-confidence on the side of its proponents about their right to sacrifice the man and his freedom in order to make this idea reality.”

He could have been talking about many different modern political movements, but he was specifically referring to what he calls “climate alarmism.” This alarmism, premised on the rise of the average yearly temperature for the last century, calls for major economic reforms to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Scientists and academics who are skeptical that we should invest a significant amount of resources mitigating climate change have often faced ridicule and hostility by environmental dogmatists, greatly hindering the debate on climate change policy that we should be having.

I do not want to address the scientific arguments for and against human-induced global warming. I want to discuss our society’s reaction to it, so I will assume that global warming is indeed a result of human activity.

The reaction among climate alarmists has been one of unbridled hysteria. Sea levels are going to rise, hurricanes will become increasingly severe and, by the end of the next century, the sky will fall. Their rhetoric, often apocalyptic in terminology, is also increasingly censoring of dissenters. Columnist Ellen Goodman wrote in The Boston Globe last year: “I would like to say we’re at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future.” There is an extremely intolerant attitude, especially in Europe, to those who, in good faith and with valid scientific arguments, deny that human activity is such a major cause of climate change that an immediate response is needed to solve it.

This intolerant and closed-minded attitude to such an important topic exemplifies the creeping ideology that Klaus fears will translate into statism. Climate alarmists’ policies will necessarily result in significant reductions in economic growth, which has been responsible for the unprecedented improvement in standard of living and technological advancement across the world. More disturbingly, many alarmists advocate a larger regulatory role of government in economic affairs.

I hasten to add that there are many environmentalists who want to address climate issues in a market-friendly way. Even the most committed defender of free markets believes that government has a role in making sure that it creates an environment where economic freedom can flourish. Policies like carbon taxes, while arguably economically infeasible and not very effective in addressing global temperature, are not threats to our market-oriented economy.

The problem is, as Klaus realizes, that a knee-jerk response to many problems by leftists is more government control. Climate alarmism is but one ideology that pushes the agenda of more state control over economic, political and personal life. In the United States, Democrats often accuse Republicans of sacrificing liberty for security in the war on terror. However, some of their most prominent positions call for the sacrifice of essential economic liberties to make way for bigger government. One can see this not only in the global warming debate, but also in the Democrats’ advocacy of government control over the healthcare market.

Klaus maintains that this debate is not ultimately about climatology, but about freedom. There will always be problems in the world, and many ideologies claim to have the solution. But any ideology that views human freedom as something to be harnessed in pursuit of a larger goal, ostensibly the idea of the “common good,” is a tool of suppression. The supposed problem of man-made global warming will be better resolved with an open debate that tolerates dissenting views and that keeps in mind the dangers of big government. If we surrender the right to control our own economic activities, even voluntarily, we will lose our dignity as individuals and become cogs in the vast machine of a state-controlled economy.

Americans should heed Klaus’ advice. He understands the harsh reality of a totalitarian ideology, one with a noble goal but a dim view of individual freedom. Let us address climate change with a little less hysteria and instead a commitment to the core American value of individual liberty.

Stephen Kenny is a senior in the College. He can be reached at kennythehoya.com. AGAINST THE WIND appears every other Tuesday.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.