Global Warming/Climate ChangeSociety

Climate Belief Forensics – Part I

Considering the Latin root of the word, ‘forensics’ is about bringing something before the public that they should perhaps know about. And certainly, exploring the question of where influential beliefs about the climate come from seems quite relevant.

While massive atmospheric emissions caused by mankind at a sufficiently large scale to change important global processes is probably a fairly new (post-war?) phenomenon, we actually already have some experience, and some successes, in managing emissions. For example, we tackled sulfur dioxide emissions by removing sulfur from petrol and installing flue gas desulfurization systems. International treaties to implement regulations made a major contribution to getting acid rain under control. Likewise, the total effective ozone-depleting potential of chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere is going down, due to emissions control measures. Similar things can be said about tackling lead emissions from automobiles.

In all these cases, while there has been some resistance to these changes, we did in the end manage to collectively do the right thing (more or less). This does not mean that we couldn’t do better — there are a number of awkward loopholes remaining — for example, sulfur emissions from cargo ships in international waters still are a big issue. But in none of these cases we have seen anything like the ferocious resistance against getting CO2 emissions under control. Where does this come from?

I do not think that there is a single answer to this question. Rather, there seems to be a number of important aspects that need to be explored. In this article, I want to focus on a quite specific one: the 20th century author Ayn Rand, her philosophy of ‘objectivism‘ and how her thinking contributed to shaping, in particular, the libertarian perspective on environment-related issues. Let us start with a famous quote from one of her books. (See also this youtube video to hear it in Rand’s own voice.)

Observe that in all the propaganda of the ecologists — amidst all their appeals to nature and pleas for "harmony with nature" — there is no discussion of man’s needs and the requirements of his survival. Man is treated as if he were an unnatural phenomenon. Man cannot survive in the kind of state of nature that the ecologists envision — i.e., on the level of sea urchins or polar bears. (…)

In order to survive, man has to discover and produce everything he needs, which means that he has to alter his background and adapt it to his needs. Nature has not equipped him for adapting himself to his background in the manner of animals. From the most primitive cultures to the most advanced civilizations, man has had to manufacture things; his well-being depends on his success at production. The lowest human tribe cannot survive without that alleged source of pollution: fire. It is not merely symbolic that fire was the property of the gods which Prometheus brought to man. The ecologists are the new vultures swarming to extinguish that fire. – (From "Return of the Primitive")

I do not think it would be necessary on a permaculture blog to go into any detail how deeply misguided that perspective actually is. It might have been written mostly as a response to eco-primitivism, but even so, the author clearly was not able to discern between perspectives that are a world apart.

Ayn Rand’s real name was Alisa Rosenbaum; she was born in 1905 in Saint Petersburg and emigrated to the U.S. in the 20s, where she achieved a certain degree of fame with her 1943 novel "The Fountainhead" as well as her best known 1957 novel, "Atlas Shrugged", which was actually an exposition of her philosophy of Objectivism. Apart from her influence on libertarian thinking, her ideas also had an impact by shaping the views of some of her influential close friends, including, in particular, Alan Greenspan.

I do not want to claim being an expert on Ayn Rand, and in writing this article I hope for some readers who have deeper insights into specific issues than I have to be able to help clearing up some of the confusion around her and her influence — so, this is more an invitation to dialogue than it is an article set in stone.

What strikes me about Ayn Rand’s philosophy is that on the one hand it’s a mishmash of quite independent but strongly held beliefs which are woven into a network of ideas with sometimes fairly thin strands, and on the other hand, it gathered followers in a way that seems to strongly remind one of cult-like structures.

From a ‘30000 feet altitude’ perspective, Ayn Rand’s philosophy seems to be about three ideas that play a very prominent role — at least when judged with respect to their impact on society. It is probably unlikely that she originated these ideas, but she certainly served as a socio-cultural amplifier of their influence. Adherents of objectivist philosophy would quite likely disagree on my broadscale description, emphasizing instead that the important ideas are about reality, consciousness, and existence. But judging impact-wise, perhaps the biggest ideas are (a) that governments only role is to protect individual rights, in the narrow sense that is compatible with unrestricted laissez-faire capitalism, (b) that technology is an expression of mankind’s intellectual superiority over nature, which is generally considered as hostile and has to be fought, and (c) the key tool to subdue nature is fire.

It is quite amazing to study the extreme extent that fire was revered by Ayn Rand. Smoking, for example, epitomized to her the idea of man holding and controlling fire in his hands and hence was considered a holy duty. This went to the extent of members of the clique of objectivists that formed around her back then needing a good excuse for not smoking:

The all-encompassing nature of the Randian line may be illustrated by an incident that occurred to a friend of mine who once asked a leading Randian if he disagreed with the movement’s position on any conceivable subject. After several minutes of hard thought, the Randian replied: "Well, I can’t quite understand their position on smoking." Astonished that the Rand cult had any position on smoking, my friend pressed on: "They have a position on smoking? What is it?" The Randian replied that smoking, according to the cult, was a moral obligation. In my own experience, a top Randian once asked me rather sharply, "How is it that you don’t smoke?" When I replied that I had discovered early that I was allergic to smoke, the Randian was mollified: "Oh, that’s OK, then." The official justification for making smoking a moral obligation was a sentence in Atlas where the heroine refers to a lit cigarette as symbolizing a fire in the mind, the fire of creative ideas. (One would think that simply holding up a lit match could do just as readily for this symbolic function.) One suspects that the actual reason, as in so many other parts of Randian theory, from Rachmaninoff to Victor Hugo to tap dancing, was that Rand simply liked smoking and had the need to cast about for a philosophical system that would make her personal whims not only moral but also a moral obligation incumbent upon everyone who desires to be rational. –

To Ayn Rand, mastery and utilization of fire is what sets man apart from animals, and reshaping the world according to what she thinks "the rational mind" wants it to be, like by harnessing fire’s power, is seen as mankind’s supreme destiny. Correspondingly, the engineer (master of the engine) is elevated to the status of the High Priest of Fire.

Actually, Rand’s views on fire are quite a distinct issue from her political ideas about government and capitalism. Still, she fused them under the intellectual roof of her philosophy of objectivism. While one may argue that her political position with respect to government might have some justifiable points and hence would at least have some value for opening an important debate, her perspective on the relation between mankind and nature appears to actually be a product of an outright psychotic fear of nature. Still, much of this seems to have rubbed off onto libertarianism (perhaps as a sort of communicable mental disease?), judging from the general tone of articles on environment-related issues that originate in the libertarian sphere [1].

Still, deranged as her views on mankind and nature (which she expressed on many occasions) may seem, there is something fascinating about studying her beliefs — fascinating in the sense that studying the odd freak case where something has gone seriously wrong often allows one to take a peek at deeper mechanisms at work that are otherwise invisible to us. Apart from the intriguing aspect that such views keep attracting quite a number of followers, what is it in the human psyche that can make one believe such weird things? I am far from having finite and definitive answers on this, but my present working hypothesis is that (a) such a perspective is essentially fear-driven, and (b) there is a quite fundamental issue with the human mind itself here that we would do well to understand better.

Could it be that being at the mercy of forces which are beyond our intellectual understanding can cause serious emotional distress, and which in some people seems to lead to a perception of nature as an enemy that has to be fought as fiercely as possible? After all, there definitely is something highly irrational about how present day society handles fossil fuelsrapid depletion of high quality fuels perhaps being the most immediately visible symptom.

A hidden drive to use as much fuel (hence, fire) as possible in order to re-shape the world may just manage to explain a lot about the precarious situation we have got ourselves into. Is the deep fear of everything that remotely smells of wild nature related to another deep fear in the conscious mind — the fear of not being in control in an even more fundamental sense? After all, the conscious mind keeps on trying very hard to fool itself into believing itself more reliable than it actually is. The more I study the structure of self-proclaimed ‘rational’ articles on both the topics of the environment as well as on rationality itself, I get the impression that something very important is going on — there seems to be a lesson out there to be learned about self-deception. Quite often, it is amazing to see how certain ‘rational’ authors use enormous intellectual firepower to fool themselves into not seeing some fairly obvious things — such as some quite straightforward self-contradictions.

This, then, certainly is an important insight: as long as one is unable to properly question the reliability of one’s own mind, even being the cleverest person in the world would be of little value, for subconscious irrational fears of all sorts of things would make one unconsciously abuse this intellectual power to spin deep internal lies to one’s own consciousness. With the term "deep internal lie", I mean a thought that has subconscious and mostly emotional origins which get masked by the conscious mind in such a way that the mind considers it born of sound, rational reasoning. This seems to be a key problem in particular with ‘objectivism’.

Funny enough, in the field of mathematical logic, we know that there is a very good reason to stay well away from anything that claims to having shown its own logical soundness. Indeed, there is a deep theorem that any reasoning system that can prove it would never end up producing contradictory claims will automatically and inevitably be in deep trouble straightaway: We have learned by now that if one can prove that, then one can indeed prove anything — that one plus one equals five and simultaneously one plus one equals three, that every number equals zero, and that black is white, etc. [2] Basically: as soon as reasoning can reason out its own soundness, it has gone crazy and can be made to reason out any absurdity one could come up with. Somehow, people insisting in their own rationality seem to not have paid attention to quite a few important observations. One would be wise to stay away from them.

When I started to ponder these issues of the human mind sometimes playing tricks on itself and making itself believe in its own reliability (or to, say, describe itself as ‘rational’), I started to often notice the problem of some people spinning sophisticated stories first and foremost to themselves in order to save themselves from seeing something quite prominent. There are some well known clinical phenomena which seem strongly related to this – such as bizarre cases of blind people that cannot be convinced that they actually are blind (Anton–Babinski syndrome — see also [3]). It may well be that in order to make substantial progress on some of the most pressing environmental issues, we have to learn to understand the nature of such situations in which the human mind badly fools itself. And we better make progress on this fast.

Mankind depends on both nature and technology to survive — but in this, we are not actually that special. Precisely the same holds true for e.g. termites, birds, and even trees. (Have you ever wondered why forests use photosynthetic energy to engineer structures that utilize sunlight to return water to the atmosphere?) Technology, after all, is just about the tools to achieve certain objectives — it does not have much significance beyond that. Why then did Ayn Rand make such a clearly visible distinction between fire-based technology and other tech? Might this be related to the misconception that there actually has to be something that sets man apart from the rest of nature, and that it was easier for her to believe that fire plays that role better than, say, language (many animals make different types of sounds to convey information), death rituals (even magpies seem to have them), warfare, mathematics, or similar things that often are considered as “human” but are also observed with other species?

It is bemusing to see how the objectivist perspective on smoking changed once science clearly showed its dangers — objectivists, after all, being bound to experience substantial cognitive dissonance, believing things that are seriously in contradiction with well-established research results. Of course, the question remains how objectivists could ever have believed in its significance if its necessity actually is so clearly impossible to reason out. It’s pretty much the same with their ideas about fire. For pretty much every fire-based technological solution, we actually seem to know alternative solutions that can achieve an equivalent effect without it. One should note in particular that focusing on “fire” may be a cheap rhetoric trick for not having to contemplate the role of fuel — without which there would be no fire, and which, after all, are produced by nature. A key question the libertarians have to ask themselves here is: to what extent are they willing to allow the strange beliefs of Ayn Rand that seem rooted in a deep fear of anything that is natural (with the exception of fuels) misguide their thinking?

To me, it is difficult to judge to what extent the often quite aggressive positions on climate change found in the Libertarian camp can be attributed to Ayn Rand’s phobias. But that there has been some damaging impact seems out of the question.

Continue to Part II….

Further Reading:


  1. E.g.:
  2. See for example:
  3. A medical article on the Anton-Babinsky Syndrome:


  1. Interesting Thomas. Cofabulation is an intensely frustrating, yet all-pervasive problem. It’s particularly frustrating when it’s related to critical issues that require clear, objective observation and behavioural change — i.e. where concerted action is needed on issues that affect our collective futures in profound, even life-threatening, ways. If I need help to pluck my child out of shark infested water, it would be beyond frustrating if you and your friends sat unmoved in your boat, telling me not to worry, and that the shark fin I’m seeing is actually that of a dolphin, or worse, that it’s actually a plastic prop from a local government inexplicably determined to stop us having seaside fun.

    In the years I’ve been covering climate change issues, and environmental issues in general, one thing that constantly arises is the accusation that governments are conspiring to control us, and/or capitalise on us, by manufacturing the climate change problem out of ‘thin air’ (excuse the pun). This is highly interesting when you actually look at the facts — and I’m not referring to climate science facts here, but the facts of what governments are actually doing about their supposed Frankenstein-like creation. i.e. absolutely nothing.

    It is, in reality, obvious that most world governments are either directly or indirectly controlled and taking their cues from Big Industry, and Big Industry are doing everything they can to make matters worse whilst trying to show that they’re actually making things better. Obvious examples are such wonderful public relations inventions like ‘clean coal‘, and ‘clean fuels‘ (biofuels), whilst actively funding science deception.

    If government has ‘invented’ climate change, then it has shot itself in its own foot, as all it has accomplished is to show the voting public how utterly incompetent it is to deal with critical issues. It has merely given itself the opportunity to display its own inadequacies, and how it has wholly sold out to financial interests of the world’s corporate elite.

    The fact that people keep crying ‘conspiracy’ is a sad reflection on how well programmed people have become – and worse, they’re programmed by the very profit-centric, centralised industrial system they profess to reject on philosophical grounds.

  2. I get some inspiration from Stefan Molyneux
    perhaps you could discuss your theories and ideas with him on his sunday call in show
    He would be happy to discuss Ayn Rand with you, who he does rate quite highly
    have a look for yourselves, as I have said before, I do not like to debate issues for which I am not fully informed
    Stefan does advocate that most of our problems are government based and I would look forward to hearing either craig or thomas discuss this with a true philosopher
    maybe you may actually learn something and if not you will be able to reach a lot more people with your evaluation of the situation you believe the world is in

  3. I think the key issue that the world is stuck on is climate change we seen to be in a “rabbits in the headlights” situation.

    Transition towns and grass roots community endeavours are tackling these issues,community resilience,post carbon economies,steady state population,sustainable food production etc etc etc.
    They are issues that have definite actions connected to them,they are tangible and as people embrace these new modes of living and designing and thinking you can see the positive net effect.

    We can either keep arguing the point of “if or if not the climate is changing” until the cows come home and we probably will.
    It still won’t provide solutions for this world crisis.
    It’s just the lemon next to the pie.

    Permaculture is in my opinion about action,I remember reading somewhere(probably Bill) that we are here to raise potatoes not consciousness we should be part of work nets not networks.

    I happen to live in one of the most consumer driven cities on the planet(the gold coast),slowly but surely more and more people are seeking answers and ways out of the problems associated with population, food production and consumerism,energy use.
    We are trying to guide those curiosities and connect them with actions,like urban food production,retro fitting ,lifestyle changes.
    It’s my sincere hope that over the next 50 years this curiosity becomes ingrained behaviour.We have come along way already and to go forward now we as Bill says(more Bill) need to “take a warrior stance” and “quit been frightened”.
    Although this is an interesting article and I appreciate the effort made, it is far to complex for the average modern families that we engage with up here on the Gold Coast,it’s not “digestible” and people need to be nourished need to be given hope to move forward.
    I really like the regen ag(Darren D ) approach at the moment they offer real solutions to farmers in crisis.These solutions are practical and empowering.


  4. Hi Thomas, I think the title sets up a strawman. If you had called it “Ayn Rand’s Climate Belief Forensics” it would have been more accurate. Instead you lump anyone who disagrees with your beliefs in with Ayn Rand, whose position is easily demolished, fooling yourself into the delusion that only people of a different belief have minds which can fool themselves…

    “It may well be that in order to make substantial progress on some of the most pressing environmental issues, we have to learn to understand the nature of such situations in which the human mind badly fools itself. And we better make progress on this fast.”

    This works for all sides of any belief, including the side you choose.

    Happy New Year :)

  5. @Justin:

    You are right that action is of course more important than words. However, remember: the most likely response to Peak Oil seems to be a massive coal-to-liquids synfuel program! Making synfuel from coal is, after all, not that complicated a process. If *that* gets wide support, it pretty much does not matter how many carrots you grow – that would be a massive catastrophe. Heinberg might argue that we may have Peak Coal approaching sooner than we think, making this a moot point – but I am actually not at all convinced he does not under-estimate the amount of economically extractable coal.

    Also, you are right that this is a too-complex-for-the-average-guy article. This is a lot about what is going on in the heads of some decision-makers. Just take a look at the GMO Wikileaks cable Jeffrey wrote about and note the “scientific” (GM) vs. “anti-scientific/luddite” (non-GM) ideology behind it. This very clearly is Ayn Rand thinking. If you wanted to sum up the core issue in just a few sentences, it’s perhaps: (1) The 20th century saw technology change the fabric of society in a dramatic way, and as the old perspectives didn’t match the new realities well anymore (think the advent of effective and cheap contraceptives, say), a large number of new beliefs arouse – some of them quite strange. Dianetics and Orgonics immediately come to one’s mind, but there are many more such woo-woo beliefs. And curiously, the “we-are-the-rational-ones” objectivist cult of Ayn Rand also is just one of these new 20th century woo-woo beliefs. (2) While it may not be important for every single carrot-grower to know about the details, it is still important to have some idea what ideologies shaped the perspective of 20th century decision makers that got us into that mess. If you think you can break down the message of this article into small and easily digestable pieces that do not misrepresent the issue and help people in the Transition movement get the idea that some circles are strongly influenced by the ideology of fire-tech worshipping woo-woo cultists who claim intellectual superiority – by all means go ahead, do so, and tell us how you effectively communicate it! This article certainly is not the last word on the issue; as I wrote, I see it as an invitation to dialogue.


    I don’t think the claim “Instead you lump anyone who disagrees with your beliefs in with Ayn Rand, whose position is easily demolished” is supported by this article. I certainly don’t “lump anyone with Ayn Rand”, and I even do not do it in tis article – read:

    “I do not think that there is a single answer to this question. Rather, there seems to be a number of important aspects that need to be explored. In this article, I want to focus on a quite specific one”

  6. Q: “A key question the libertarians have to ask themselves here is: to what extent are they willing to allow the strange beliefs of Ayn Rand that seem rooted in a deep fear of anything that is natural (with the exception of fuels) misguide their thinking”

    A: To no extent. Libertarianism =/ Objectivism. That said, I actually would like to hear your details of how “deeply misguided” the Rand quote near the beginning of this article is. Other than her lumping of all “ecologists” together in one uniform (and extremist) lot, do you see something wrong with that description of human nature?

    And in case you’re interested in a more relevant take on libertarianism issues with environmentalism, I would highly recommend

  7. Yes Thomas, we do have a method of breaking down the issues. We just don’t talk about what got us into this situation.We just talk about what we can do to sort it out.
    A sample conversation might go something like this.

    “Who here has got a hot front room in the summer and has to turn their air -conditioner on all the time?
    Jeez that expensive isn’t it.(crowd nods head)

    (me).I am sick of paying for electricity as well,so to cut my electricity down I planted some of this Loofah vine over my front window,boy it grew great,the house was 5 degrees cooler.

    (crowd member) “wow that’s where loofah comes from”

    (me)Yes mam, and you know how good it is for the shower as well.

    We also use it for a dish scrubber,and a mate of mine gets so many off one vine that he is using it on the bottom of his pots for drainage.

    Who would like some seeds or seedlings to take home?
    (hands go up in the crowd)

    My personal beliefs,the audiences beliefs don’t even come into the equation,their politics,religious or philosophical beliefs are all quiet irrelevant,the time we spend together is about learning skills,being social and tackling what’s before us in a pro active way.
    If I was to stand up and say all you capitalist,communist, randians, bio dynamics guys breatherians etc are woo woo and you need to understand that you created this problem.
    They would probably throw their chairs at me and I would spend a meeting moderating the ensuing shit fight.
    I am sure that this leaves us open to the argument “well if you don’t sort out the past you can’t go into the future”

    I guess I have taken the attitude,that if you give people the skills to change behaviour and that provides a reward for them they are less likely to rely on old behaviour patterns.Skinner calls this operant conditioning.

    The net result of this lets just call it a “don’t ask don’t tell policy” is that people don’t see as as rabid smug zealots preaching the new tao of sustainability.
    When we need to connect with our community they connect back with us and they trust us.
    They trust us to help them in the community gardens,they trust our advice on sustainable gardening,retro fitting,waste management,water use,nutrition.
    With this sort of public trust we have been able to move into local schools,local businesses,churches and other community groups.
    We also have the access to local government and state government. With access to the people and access to the government we are able to get a great deal done,policy change etc etc.

    I am often asked why in Australia permaculture isn’t bigger than it is, after all we have got David and Bill and Geoff.

    I can only think to myself that it might just be because some people don’t see permaculture as a design system but as a belief system a type of pseudo religion and they preach off topic about all sorts of things.
    When you engage in this type of thinking you become a sub cultist,rather than a design scientist.
    Unfortunately some of the sub-culturists have driven it(permaculture) to the fringe when it really should be in the mainstream,so that’s why I don’t look backwards.

    I am just glad that we do have some really focused individuals in Australia,like the guys in Melbourne doing Permablitz,The Regen Ag crew,and of course Geoff and all the PRI crew.

    Of course, I am just showing them how to plant carrots and that doesn’t seem like much but the knock on effect of that is really what I am chasing.

    That knock on effect is a highly connected community with high levels of trust in me and the information I am delivering.

    A truly connected empowered community is a frightening thing capable of great change and fierce resistance,I will give you M.S.T in Brazil as a positive non political non religious people movement..

    I would simply never be able to get to that position if I was making value judgements on peoples personal beliefs or trying to get them to accept mine.

    I have probably made little sense,I am not much of a writer but that’s the approach the wonderful crew of people from all walks of life here on the Gold Coast has taken,we love everyone and want them to love us;>)
    Thanks Justin

  8. “Bolivia supports the thesis that the Earth is “Panchamama,” a living organism that must be respected are cared for, not just exploited. It stands in opposition to the dominant vision, which is set in the framework of the economy: Selling carbon credits, for example, means granting the right to pollute.

    The dominant societies see the Earth as a chest of resources that can be used indefinitely, although now they have to be utilized in a sustainable way, because they are scarce. They don’t recognize the dignity and rights of natural beings, they see them as means of production and their relation based on utility. These are issues that do not enter into the discussions at Cancún or any other COP.”

    “Growth by what means? Exploiting nature? It is precisely that type of growth and development that could lead us to the abyss, because we humans are consuming 30% more than what the Earth can replace. […] The problem is the relation of the human being with the Earth, because it is a violent relationship, a closed fist. As long as we fail to change this, we are headed for the worst. And this time there is no Noah’s Ark. Either we save ourselves of we all perish.”

    – “This Time There Will Be No Noah’s Ark”:

  9. JBob,

    Actually, I am fairly sure that the perspective of a number of presently influential libertarians such as e.g. Eric Raymond on environmental issues noticeably have been influenced by Ayn Rand’s thinking. In particular, some activities that originated around the German libertarian party seem to strongly suggest having been shaped by Ayn Rand’s ideology.

  10. JBob,

    I haven’t read the entire article you linked, but the first paragraph pretty much summarizes my point:

    There is a particular subset of libertarians that champions anti-environmentalism, zeal for maximum fossil-fuel consumption, disregard for pollution, and worship of population growth for its own sake (and all that comes with it). At best, these libertarians merely fail to acknowledge the downside of their positions. At worst, they revel in them. I do not know how these people came to find such easy lodgment within the libertarian community, and I do not know why their presence goes unremarked in so many libertarian circles – but they have and it does.

    Isn’t it puzzling that libertarian societies by and large fail to make a strong point about not allowing such pseudo-libertarians poison how the wider public thinks about them? As far as I can see, the majority of libertarian media (in the wider sense, including e.g. blogs) seem to position themselves on environment-related topics in a way that roughly is in alignment with the views described in the paragraph above.

  11. Justin,

    Ad “Yes Thomas, we do have a method of breaking down the issues. We just don’t talk about what got us into this situation.”

    Maybe that’s the appropriate strategy, maybe it isn’t – that’s very difficult to say. My perspective on all this is that if we do not make a serious attempt to learn from our past mistakes, we are bound to soon repeat them – which we likely no longer can afford. Maybe I am wrong here – then I would love to be proven wrong. But if I am right, then the approach I am taking towards this is too important to be dropped. Let’s just hope at least one of us is right and manages to bring things up to speed in time his way.

  12. Justin/Thomas – I personally think we need both. That’s why blog posts on this site cover both.

    Some think just individual action will make all the difference, but I disagree. If culture is heading on an incorrect tangent, because we’ve built our social/economic/political framework on incorrect basic philosophical principles, then individual action can make little difference in the grand scheme of things, or it can be considerably hampered by the same.

    We need to change culture, as well as our individual behaviours. It’s not one or the other.

    Perhaps the best way I can illustrate this is through the Ant Mill (see video here).

    I see our political/economic/social/spiritual cycles, as a human race, being largely repetitive. As Thomas says, if we don’t learn from history, then we repeat it. When absorbing permaculture concepts, we come to realise that we can in fact design our way out of trouble, and this applies at much more than just the carrot-planting/harvesting level. It also applies to economic, political and philosophical levels. Indeed, the actions of the carrot planter is largely the outflow of the aforementioned. Our present state of supermarket-dependency is an example of this. We’ve built a system around the massive consumption of ‘fire’ (oil), not taking the time to consider if this is wise.

    If we continue to repeat our historical mistakes, then what we’re doing is essentially the same as the Ant Mill. We’re going around and around in circles, getting nowhere fast. If we continue, like the ants, we ultimately die. It doesn’t matter if, as ants, we’re wearing eco-shoes as we march – we’ll still die.

    I think understanding the need for systemic change is now acute. The world population, and its massive vulnerability due to climate change and peak oil (and the oil intensity of our current food system) and other issues, means we must get this right, and now.

    One more example of how base principles can create base laws that effectively make sustainability illegal is in the ‘Getting to the heart of the matter: Corporate greed is a CEO’s legal obligation‘ section of my ‘The Roots of Change – in Ourselves, or Government and Industry?’ post. Here it’s shown that the CEOs of corporations are obliged to prioritise the economic desires of their shareholders above any other interests, or face prosecution.

    The ‘individual action’-only approach would have us ignore this law. Such an individual might encourage a CEO to take a more moral path, and work for people and place, but unless the root problem of his legal obligation is dealt with, such encouragement is pointless. It ultimately only ends up in greenwash – what we’re universally witnessing now.

    Let’s not go around and around like ants who’ve lost the correct scent. We need to stop, take stock, and think about what direction we need to head, and figure a way to get there – laying down guiding principles.

  13. Thomas, I recognize Rand was a large influence on many modern libertarians. But she’s one of many, and her many faults are widely recognized among libertarians.

    Justin, very well said. We all learn that talking politics to people is usually a non-constructive activity in real-life. Isn’t that’s what’s so great about the internet though? Say your piece as often as you like, just don’t use your real name.

  14. Thanks Jbob,I am not saying chatting about politics is a bad thing it’s very constructive in some situations.
    I like to hear peoples views and share my own.
    I just don’t combine P.C and Politics or Religion.
    We are pretty lucky here in Australia we don’t have a very oppressive system so we are free to use our own name without the fear of retribution.
    Actually this article has spurred good debate in our household my son told me that he thought Aynd Rand was “bat shit crazy” and I have read Reich and the function of the orgasm.(orgone theory)
    My daughter took Ayn Rands side just to play devils advocate and proceeded to incite us,until we told her that Rand didn’t think much of feminists or women in power.
    I thought that his(Reich) very early psycho analytical work was seminal excuse the pun and interesting,but the later stuff again “bat shit crazy” it provided some light comic relief in my house and opened a dialogue.
    Thanks Justin

  15. Thomas: “I do not think that there is a single answer to this question. Rather, there seems to be a number of important aspects that need to be explored. In this article, I want to focus on a quite specific one”

    Sorry Thomas, I was obviously a bit quick off the mark, the title put but me on a bum steer. When you analyse someone like Peter Taylors beliefs I’ll be all ears. :)

  16. JBob, Justin,

    my contention is that many people – not only in the libertarian camp but also people who were influenced by Ayn Rand Gedankengut indirectly, say through others who picked up some of her beliefs, by and large may be unaware where such ideas come from – and this makes the whole situation more dangerous. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t claim Ayn Rand invented the worship of fossil fuels, but she clearly amplified the impact of such ideas.

    To me, a key question is: why do some people get so much more militant about dealing with CO2 emissions than about SO2 emissions? Shouldn’t we consider this observation quite puzzling? I do. I also would say that learning to understand the origins of this will help us to resolve a number of problems.

    Ayn Rand certainly seems to be part of the answer.

  17. Could it be because S02 emissions are mentioned about once for every 1,000 times CO2 is mentioned nowadays? And don’t CO2 regulations apply to many more areas of life than SO2? Or maybe it’s because SO2 is more obviously a dangerous pollutant (unless your soil needs suflur.)

    Rand certainly used a fire symbolism in her novels, but I’ve read a bunch of stuff by and about her and I’ve never encountered this idea of her nature-phobia (nature-domination yes), fire-worship.

  18. Thomas, I’m amazed to see Eric Raymond’s name emerge here. Small world I guess.

    Anyway, although I almost literally worship Raymond when it comes to his writing on software, (particularly The Art of UNIX Programming) when it comes to his political opinions, there is some variance.

    Raymond self-identifies as an anarchist, but is fairly radical Right economically. I have at times self-identified as an anarchist before as well, (although I don’t so much nowadays) but I am at the opposite end of the economic spectrum.

  19. @JBob,

    actually, the problem with this strange “it were all about the government wanting to impose wide regulations” idea is that actually, CO2 production to a very large extent is a question of finding the right balance between capital and running costs.

    Take a fridge. It will produce CO2 in its manufacture, and during its working life, by consuming electricity from fossil fuels. Now, considering the price, if you want to sell a cheap fridge, you of course do not put much effort into insulating it – as this would make it more expensive, right? But that makes its total accumulated cost over its entire lifetime higher, as it consumes more electricity. Right?

    So, both in terms of money as well as in terms of carbon, there will be an optimum point that makes the “service” we are actually interested in – refrigeration – as cheap as possible. In many cases, we do not even have to take fuel depletion into account to find that this optimum actually would involve investing way more effort into energy efficiency measures. For lightbulbs, this actually is fairly well known by now. Once we do take depletion into account – and this will hit everybody regardless of how we decide to approach the emissions question – the picture becomes even clearer.

    So, why is it then that we do not have things that are economically efficient when considering their total life cycle? Three answers: (a) people can’t do the maths (no wonder – we even tax them for that, and that’s called a “lottery”) and consider the price tag to show how “cheap” something is, (b) people who can do the maths and could make money by offering financing deals that rectify this situation have no clue, and (c) quite a few engineers are just too much in love with fire. Seeing engines moving somehow appears more appealing than marveling at the superior efficiency of super-duper but dull passive boring aerogel insulation. It even does not really show wear over time.
    (Cool stuff, by the way, aerogel – see e.g.:

    Or, in short: we don’t to anything about becoming carbon efficient because we are thick – for just from the economic perspective alone, completely ignoring emissions, it would make enormous sense. But when it’s about fire, some people – and in particular the promethian cultists – get very emotional.


    concerning Eric Raymond, I actually think this is just an example for the sad principle that “he who cries loudest receives the most attention in this society (regardless of whether he has to say anything of value…)” For Eric Raymond, I kind of get the impression this holds for pretty much any topic he wrote about, including software (where he by and large adorns himself with borrowed plumes, Richard Stallman being the actual giant here).

  20. I think this might be another interesting puzzle piece here – Brendan O’Neill on a rather, erm, “interesting” interpretation how environmentalism were a danger to our freedoms:

    I don’t even know where to start with taking that string of weird claims apart. But that’s not that relevant – the relevant issue is that many libertarians seem to buy this nonsense. Or is it really that that weird “environmental protection = anti-liberty” idea was originated by libertarians themselves? I *seriously* doubt that. That came from another source, but it seems to have strong support among a certain (and actually, relatively speaking, not small) subgroup of libertarians.

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