Human flourishing requires energy—not government coercion

First Published: 2016-06-02

As philosopher and author Alex Epstein (The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels) has convincingly argued, we need reliable, affordable energy to survive and flourish. Everything we do requires power: producing food and the rest of the material goods we need to survive and thrive, constructing and heating or cooling our homes and workplaces, commuting to work and traveling for pleasure, communicating with others, among other things. Without reliable, affordable energy, our lives are diminished: harder, shorter, less safe, and less comfortable.

Reliable, affordable energy today comes primarily from fossil fuels: oil, natural gas and coal, and to a lesser extent from non-fossil fuels hydro and nuclear. And yet, many governments are acting to limit or even eliminate the use of fossil fuels to fight climate change, allegedly to protect us. Take the government of Ontario, Canada’s largest province (by the size of its economy) as an example. Its new climate action plan was leaked to reporters last week and described in an excellent column by economics professor Ross McKitrick. As he observes, the plan is to decarbonize Ontario—at the cost of deindustrializing it.

Deindustrialization, of course, will also make Ontario uninhabitable for most of its current population of over 13 million. Here are some of the highlights of Ontario’s plan as reported by McKitrick. The government will phase out natural gas—after having already ended the use of coal and tripled the cost of electricity in the province. This means that it will be illegal to install natural gas and other fossil fuel-based heating systems in new buildings. Pre-climate action plan buildings will have to meet new government energy-efficiency standards (and go through expensive inspections). Any household that wants a second vehicle, must by an electric one. Biofuels will be mandated and subsidized. The list of government-coerced measures to fight climate change through cutting carbon emissions goes on—at a huge cost to human well-being.

But isn’t reducing carbon emissions a worthy goal that would promote human well-being and therefore justify government coercion? The fact is that the climate is always changing, and human impact on it is negligible, despite the catastrophic doomsday scenarios predicted (wrongly) by the environmentalists. Even if we accept the hypothesis that carbon emissions from human activity increase the level of CO2 in the atmosphere and thus the global temperature, there is no evidence that those changes are hazardous. In fact, low levels of warming (up to two degrees Celsius, which we have not reached even after 150 years of industrialization) is considered a likely net benefit to humans—even by the mainstream climate science authority the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change, according to Ross McKitrick.

Therefore, spending tax payers’ money to fight climate change—hundreds or thousands of dollars per ton of CO2 emissions according to Ontario’s plan—even to their alleged benefit, is immoral. It’s immoral because it does not benefit Ontarians but diminishes human flourishing by curtailing people’s means of livelihood and standard of living. More fundamentally, Ontario’s coercive climate action plan is immoral because it violates people’s freedom—their rights to liberty and property, which they need to survive and thrive.

Ontario’s climate action plan is of course a tremendous threat to all who live and operate a business in the province. Their freedom will be severely further curtailed and it will be much more expensive for them live and do business. Existing businesses will be reluctant to make further investments and will leave for lower-cost jurisdictions. New businesses will not want to locate in Ontario. As jobs migrate elsewhere and cost of living escalates, Ontarians will also flee.

But Ontario’s climate action plan does not concern only Ontarians and Ontario businesses. It is a concrete implementation of the immoral idea of the government harming human life by violating people’s rights. It sets a dangerous precedent for other jurisdictions of reversing the government’s proper role, which is not to violate but to protect individual rights (also against those whose emissions are proven harmful to others)—the most fundamental requirement of human flourishing.

Individual rights include the freedom to use whichever sources of energy people and businesses want, as long as they don’t violate others’ rights. Therefore, anyone wanting to promote human flourishing should protest Ontario’s climate action plan.

First published at How to be Profitable and Moral: A Rational Egoist Approach to Business and posted here with the kind permission of the author.


Jaana Woiceshyn teaches business ethics and competitive strategy at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada. She has lectured and conducted seminars on business ethics to undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA students, and to various corporate audiences for over 20 years both in Canada and abroad. Before earning her Ph.D. from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, she helped turn around a small business in Finland and worked for a consulting firm in Canada. Jaana’s research on technological change and innovation, value creation by business, executive decision-making, and business ethics has been published in various academic and professional journals and books. “How to Be Profitable and Moral” is her first solo-authored book.

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