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What if there is a real collective disaster?

One of the ideas behind CAGW is that, even if the current CAGW scare turns out to be the great big fraudulent fuss about nothing that most of us here now believe it to be, it would be wise to have in place the political machinery for coping with any future collective human disasters of a similar sort that might require collective human action to survive them, before such a disaster really does threaten to strike, and this time for real. Better safe than sorry. Better to get prepared now. CAGW may be a lie, but this is one of several ways in which it is regarded by those pushing it as a noble lie.

Paul Murphy identifies an important weakness in such thinking. Crying wolf can make the real wolf, if he does finally show up, more rather than less dangerous:

The deeper issue here is not that the political action now strangling western economies is politically motivated, but that accepting the arguments for seeing warmism as sheer political fraud means accepting that the talking heads citing science to sell it to the masses are either deluded or dishonest – but because no wolf today doesn’t mean no wolf tomorrow, it also means that warmist politicization of the research process has to be seen as having destroyed the credibility of all involved, and thus as having greatly weakened the world’s ability to recognize and respond to a real threat should one now materialize.


Quite a few libertarians of my acquaintance (including, I seem to recall from comment threads here, our own Johnathan Pearce) think that libertarians, to quote the words said to me on this topic a few days ago, “miss a trick” by failing to describe what should happen in the event of such a real collective disaster. Yes, CAGW is almost certainly a lie, noble or just plain wicked. But what if something like that really does look like it really is about to happen?

My personal answer is that the decisive variable will probably not be political preparedness, but scientific and technological and economic preparedness. Not: Will we be politically organised to do the necessary? Rather: Will we be able to do the necessary? If our species suddenly finds itself facing a real collective disaster, the political will to tackle it will surely be there. What may be lacking, however, is the means to avert disaster, and even to understand it correctly. The best defence for humanity as a whole, just as it is now for the people in your town facing flood risks or tornadoes, is to be rich and clever and alert. Anything that gets in the way of that is bad.

Murphy is quite right that this ghastly CAGW episode has degraded our collective alertness. Even warnings of disaster from impeccably scrupulous scientists, utterly unconnected with the CAGW argument, will now be taken only with vast pinches of salt added.

For those who do think that political preparedness might make all the difference, I’d add that, in addition to being richer, cleverer and more alert (not least because in a free society a wider range of potential dangers will have been speculated about – e.g. by science fiction writers) than a less free society, a more free society is also more public spirited. You can never, of course, be sure, in the event of a one-off global crisis. But, when collective action really is necessary, free societies tend, quite aside from doing everything else better, to do even that better than unfree societies.

An unfree society may be great at imposing immediate unanimity, but what if what it immediately imposes unanimously is panic and indecision? (Think Stalin when Hitler attacked the USSR in 1942 1941.) And what if it then imposes a wrong decision about what needs to be done? A collectivity that is hastily assembled by freer and more independent persons is just as likely to act in a timely manner, and is far more likely to have a proper argument about what must be done, and hence to arrive at a better decision about that.

Besides which, what is often needed in a crisis is not so much collective action, but rather individual action for the benefit of the collective. That is a very different thing, and clearly a society which cultivates individuality will prepare individuals far better for such heroism than will societies where everyone is in the habit only of doing as they are told.

I will be interested to hear what commenters have to say about this.

22 comments to What if there is a real collective disaster?

  • This article is raising an interesting point.

    I also find myself thinking that a global society that hasn’t wasted untold billions on unnecessary climate change prevention projects, but instead spent the money on the normal flow of infrastructure and other economic development is much better placed to deal with a future catastrophe of any sort.

  • Hmm

    As the only thing that Government truly excels at is bureaucracy – when a crisis occurs Government/bureaucracy always initially tends towards doing nothing followed by a knee jerk reaction of doing something(anything) to prove that it can.

    The CAGW thing differed from a “normal” crisis in that literally anything could be theorised to “prove” CAGW was a crisis. The timescale involved was more than one liftime, also the end result was deemed utter distruction and therefore all opponents could be instantly dismissed as “Evil”.

    Most crisis in reality are not perceived like this – there is usually a rapidly approaching/escalating problem that must be either dealt with or endured.

    The only time the Government process differs is when there are individuals already there at the point of crisis who have been trained (have experience) in dealing with the out of the ordinary.

    The good thing is – it neither takes massive amounts of money nor the creation of huge government bodies to create a system in which crisis can be competantly dealt with. There are only four necessary things.

    1). Ensuring approximately one in ten of a given populaton (spread throughout the entire population) knowing roughly what can and should be done in a crisis.

    2). Laws that actively encourage, or at least don’t prevent, these people doing what is required. Laws that allow for different actions, which would normally be allowed, to be taken in crisis situations. (This is the major political aspect of crisis that needs to be addressed)

    3). Fast methods of communication throughout a population during the period of crisis tbru which nodes of command can be rapidly changed and modified.

    4). Maintainable lines of transport. (secure logistics)

    These four things ensure that most things can be dealt – the majority of the sheeple will do what they are told to do.

    All four things are already part of everyday life – and need only tweaking to make them operable for crisis situations.

    The big problem is the laws. In every country the police now have greater authority than the citizens. The law should be equal and applicable for all adults- there should be no special interest groups. The laws should be straightforward and non-complex so that everyone can easily be taught and understand and act within them, including crisis situations (for isn’t crisis situations what laws are really there for?)

  • Laird

    The central thrust of this essay seems to be that a threat to us all requires a collective (i.e., centrally determined and directed) response. It isn’t until the last (full) paragraph that we see a glimpse of the real solution: individual action (which has the side effect of benefitting us all). Left to our own devices we are self-organizing and self-actualizing, which will almost invariably produce the best overall result.

    An argument can be made that in the face of an immediate existential threat, such as armed invasion, a centralized state response is necessary. Perhaps. But in almost every other case such a response will be wrong: it will mis-assess the threat, develop a sub-optimal response, and implement it badly. The solution is not central planning, but increased individual autonomy.

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)


    The reason my starting point was a collective problem soluble only with a collective response is that this is exactly what CAGW either is (if you believe in it) or was fabricated to be (my preference). And the libertarians saying we should think about that were arguing that we should indeed think about that, i.e. the sort of collective problem that can only be solved by collective action. Maybe you disagree with them, but that is what they are saying.

    But I agree with you that such circumstances are indeed much rarer than is widely assumed. Which is one reason why I think that finding a replacement for CAGW is going to be so very difficult for the global government tendency. This is my “What will be the next Big Tyranny Excuse?” question that I occasionally bang on about here. Commenters have suggested all sorts of excuses, often involving resource depletion of one sort or another. But the answer to resource depletion is a market. Easy. Which is why resource depletion lost out to CAGW in the Darwinian contest to find the next Big Tyranny Excuse, once economics had collapsed as an excuse.

  • Steve D

    Individual action for the benefit of the collective is not individuality but its opposite.

  • Laird

    Brian, my point was larger than that. Even if CAGW were real (not imaginary, and just a handy excuse to enlarge the state) the solution would still be individual action. The (putative) impact of CAGW is slow and predictable. People will simply mitigate it through actions designed to benefit themselves: they will build dikes against rising sea levels; they will make greater use of sunscreens if UV levels increase; they will gradually migrate northward, benefitting the local economies in Canada, Scandinavia, etc. And, equally importantly, they will find ways to profit from increased atmospheric CO2 (better crop yields, etc.) and warmer temperatures. Collective (state) action does everything precisely wrong: it exaggerates the dangers, ignores the benefits, and minimizes the real costs of their snake-oil “solutions”. State action is almost never the optimal solution to any problem, even a “collective” one.

  • Bill Reeves

    I think you’re right and the best analogy is war. In WW2 the Polish had great political resolution to resist the German onslaught but lacked the economic, technological and organizational ability to do so. The UK was famously lacking in political will but had the underlying capacity to resist once the politicians’ hands were forced. We should focus on being the richest, most technologically sophisticated society that we can be – nothing else will better assure our survival.

    And this should lead us to resist both social democrat and national ‘greatness’ statist adventures as anything that strenghthens the state tends to weaken society’s underlying resilience.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Speaking of individual action, it strikes me that the greater the number of people who know how to survive, the greater the number who will survive. [Samizdatistas go, “Well, D-U-H!!!”]

    How many people are really capable of providing all the food for themselves and their families? Are you personally capable of, and living where you physically can, dig a root cellar to store food over winter? Can you rig up a windmill, both to raise water from wells and to generate electricity? Etc., etc.

    It’s been pointed out that whereas in America, at least, people who live near forest preserves (or actual national forests) think they’ll be fine since they can hunt for game, the fact is that there isn’t enough game to support 320 million souls. (And how many people are actually knowledgeable enough to hunt successfully, even if they do have a ready, steady game supply?)

    High population-density may be fun and exciting and even utile as all heck, but it’s just like everything else: There’s always a downside. Large cities are not a good place to be if the infrastructure goes to heck; and they make useful targets for attack (whether by other men or by The Asteroid).

    Yes, men can learn to survive, in time. But it would be much better for all concerned if practical know-how were more the norm.

    All these zoning laws about not growing tomatoes in your front yard (or, in many cases I’m afraid, in your back yard) — let alone goats and sheep and cows and chickens and…simply mean that everyone is increasingly dependent on large-scale infrastructure. By the way, do you know how to raise and harvest crops using the horse, the disk, the plow, the harrow, the drag, and the hands and pitchfork at harvest-time?

    I’m not talking about “atomistic” individualism as a preferred social order, but self-sufficiency is still a desirable state of being, and is one of the things collectivist policies are specifically designed to squelch.

  • bloke in spain

    The key drawback to an established “collective” reaction to any emergency is the structure of the “collective” is pre-existant. And Northcote Parkinson tells us how that structure works & how it will react. The first & immediate reaction will be a territorial fight within the various sectors of the organisation as individuals & groups within it jockey for maximum personal advantage & this will continue throughout the crisis.
    Just look at the historical record of large organisations attempting to deal with fluid situations.

  • Gary Poteat

    What if the real crisis (and one will come) cannot be addressed (or even acknowledged) because of the enormous political/social capital already invested in pushing a make believe crisis or a wrong-headed response?
    Another ice age is almost certain to initiate in the next 10-100,000 years (Sorry I can’t pin it down any closer). However, if temperatures started dropping significantly and rapidly in 2014, for the sake of argument, (the Younger Dryas temperature drop apparently only took a few decades) could our political/social elites mount an effective response? Could they even accept/acknowledge the fact that a new Ice Age was starting in time to take any effective action?
    Alternately, if (or when?)the global economy starts collapsing due to widespread loss of confidence in fiat money, will anyone in a position of power be able to face up to the need for a response, other than the central banks providing ‘liquidity to the system’ or another ‘stimulus?’
    Too much personal prestige and/or emotional commitment to lies or foolishness has led many a ruling class toward ruin (pulling their society down with them). I don’t think the group in charge today can ever admit that they were wrong, much less change direction.
    An Italian mystery writer once described Italy as ‘a nation of scoundrels ruled by criminals.’ It appears to me that all the western nations are (on the whole) now nations of self-absorbed morons ruled by the most extreme examples of their citizenry.

  • CaptDMO

    Top scientists cite “computer models”.
    And who writes those models?
    And who “refines” the “parameters?

    And those spiffy ‘putters come out of those “scientists” pockets, RIGHT?

    So far, it’s been unseasonally chilly “round here”, and I understand that current
    scientists forecasts of GW related hurricanes and tornados has been “unexpectedly”
    lacking in fruition.

    The best part is….according to (somebody), all this CO2, extra rain, and warmer weather, is going to
    DESTROY all the “regional” food crops.

    Maybe there’ll be that much LESS corn available to turn into less efficient, less economica, taxable fuel adulterant, with FOSSIL FUEL generated distillation.

  • Roue le Jour

    While watching alien invasion films it has occurred to me that the purpose of politicians is to talk to other politicians. If the threat is alien attack, the asteroid etc. then they serve no useful purpose and the best thing to do is lob a grenade in the cabinet room and lock the door before they get us all killed.

  • veryretired

    What I find odd is that no one is talking about the clearest ongoing disaster in human history, easily equivalent to the Black Death of the 14th century, which is the relentless depredations of the autocratic/totalitarian collectivist state in its various permutations around the globe.

    Compared to anthropogenic global collectivism, the warming of the Earth since the end of the Little Ice Age, assisted by humankind or not, has a long, long way to go.

    Indeed, compared to the seemingly endless variations of fascism, Marxism, theocratic repression, and military dictatorship, the body count, and misery index, must be similar to a fairly large asteroid strike in the midlands of a major continent.

    The scourge of humanity is the rapacious desire of some of its members to rule over the rest, and kill anyone who gets in the way.

    Lord Acton knew, and tried to warn us, one of many who have played Cassandra’s role, and found the same sad result.

    In the movies and paperbacks, the alien monsters are always horrible and hostile, gruesome and implacable in their desire for human death.

    But we know what true evil looks like—an ordinary, innocuous little man, resembling an accountant or druggist, who acts out his obsessions as he acquires more and more political power, until the day when great armies of soldiers and secret police kill anyone who stands in his way.

    And what stands in the way most often is the freedom and dignity of the individual, the direst threat, the first element marked for death.

    Pardon me if I don’t sign up for some great, new state program to protect me from an unknown danger. The danger I do know is more than enough for me, thank you very much.

  • Johnnydub

    Let’s be clear – read the statements of watermelons like James Hansen from the 70’s.

    They realise people won’t vote for communism. So they had to find an “emergency” that allowed them to bypass capitalism, democracy etc. and CAGW was that.

    Then their goal was to smash capitalism, which by massively artificially inflating the cost of energy they will achieve. (at least in the West – the Chinese won’t give a stuff)

    Once they achieved their communist vision, then clearly the next stage will be the deniers etc requiring “re-education”

    As has been pointed out on the Telegraph blogs, the bastard politicians are debating it a law to make it a criminal offence to fail to notify the authorities if you have any suspicion that a kid is being abused / someone is a paedophile. next it will be if they hold “anti-social” views…

    I just wish I was being a paranoid nutter, rather than simply observing things that are actually in motion around us…

  • Stuck-Record

    The original post linked to above raises a far more dramatic problem than humanity’s ability to deal with future disaster scenarios. Like most of the comments above, I think that, as a species, we are capable of rising to any of these challenges. Free-will, self-organisation and science/tech are the answers.

    The damage done by the Thermageddonist crowd to the validity of ‘science’ is incalculable.

    When this current Tulip Fever unravels, as it surely will, what will be the public’s perception of the role of the corrupted and deluded scientific mainstream be? Is it likely that the public’s already dwindling respect for science will continue its post-war trend? I think it far more likely that our future crystal-shaking, homoeopathic-swigging, believe-nothing citizens will just regard science as an optional way of looking at the world; as equally valid as Islam or The Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    In my life I’ve seen the growth of kookdom to levels that would have had the already worried Carl Sagan turning in his grave. Mainstream public opinion has already retreated to the dancing round the Maypole covered in woad level. The only difference is that they do it whilst holding iPhones.

    I’m afraid that, unless a brave cadres of scientists stand up and be counted pretty soon, the few left who advocate science as a saviour will be drowned by the idiotic and betrayed.

    If this unravels badly, no one will ever trust scientists again.

  • Kevin B

    So what has the wannabe global collective done in the face of the current ‘global threat’? Well apart from lining their own pockets they’ve wasted an awful lot of money attempting to ration energy thus ensuring that the collective is less able to meet the putative disaster.

    Oh, and they’ve also failed dismally to get any sort of meaningful global response.

    So what’s going to happen when a real global emergency happens? Say the next ice age, when the Siberians begin to move south and meet the age old human instinct of ‘me and mine over you and yours’. Will the global collective send troops to Mongolia and Russia to ensure that the Siberians are met with open arms, or will they send bombers to Siberia on the grounds that the already delicate Mongolian environment will be devastated by the population explosion? (Not to mention the ice age).

    And when the Canadians start moving South?

    Most of the foreseeable ‘global’ disasters, (a huge upsurge in vulcanism for instance, or the much heralded asteroid impact), will have devastating local consequences causing mass refugees, along with debilitating regional and/or global consequences such as mass disruption of weather patterns causing famine, which will mean people struggling to cope with their own survival, let alone give aid to a load of strangers.

    No, the global collective will not respond well to a global disaster, or even a large local disaster. Compare the performance of the UN agencies and the huge supranational NGOs with the US Navy and the smaller, more focused, charities in the recent Pacific tsunami. One lot produced oodles of money to be spread around aqmongst the right people, and the others produced blankets, clothing, potable water, shelter, transport, infrastructure repair and all those other things that might be useful to ordinary people in the wake of a disaster.

  • PapayaSF

    By the way, Hitler attacked the USSR in 1941, not 1942.

  • Rich Rostrom

    What Stalin did wrong was less a mistaken response to a problem than a mistaken assessment that the problem was impossible, and therefore nothing whatever should be done to prepare against it.

    It’s still a variation on putting society’s decision making into a single, fallible, uncheckable hand.

  • I think even the ‘better safe than sorry’ idea is bad. Reminds me of the story by Borges where the protagonist learns that an awful personal disaster lies in wait for him. So he stops going out, boards up the windows, fits multiple locks and bolts on the doors in order to ward off catastrophe. Many years later, alone, unloved and miserable, he discovers that this retreat from the world was itself the disaster.
    The consequences of the fear of climate change will ruin everything for us, especially associated as it is with and originating out of a deeper, non-specific anxiety, which I suspect will, when AGW runs out of steam, simply come up with new terrors. It is surrendering to the fear which is the real danger.

  • Laird

    Well said, Stephen. However, I would submit that “non-specific anxiety” is itself the objective of many pushing the CAGW agenda. It’s the impetus behind ever-expanding government. Until we (as a society) learn to start laughing at the doom-mongers we will remain susceptible to the “fear of the month club”.

  • jdgalt

    The ability, and propensity, of politicians to invent phony emergencies as an excuse to get their policy demands pushed through without debate is well known, and is a much greater danger than the occasional real emergency. Therefore, governments must NOT be allowed to have emergency powers at all.

    Instead, I recommend that people band together with their neighbors outside of government to any degree possible, forming “watch groups” which can be used to spread the word of these deceptive initiatives and organize resistance (if only in the form of flight and/or workarounds).

    The world needs a real precautionary principle that is the exact opposite of the so-called PP the EU promotes. The principle should be (to paraphrase Hume) “Extraordinary demands upon other people require extraordinary proof.”

  • bobby b

    “Better safe than sorry. Better to get prepared now.”

    Damn. It almost worked. We were within months of convincing the world – the world! – to give us money and power and money and influence and money and fame and . . . .

    But we gave the damned deniers enough time to get organized and review our proofs and formulate responses and just basically get their noses far enough under the tent flap so that our momentum flagged at just the wrong time.

    So, this time, let’s set up a System ahead of time so that we can race through all of those stupid consensus-building and glad-handing and expert-wailing stages, and get right to getting the money and the power into our hands, and then the damned dirty deniers can yell and scream and show graphs and be oh-so-smug all they want, at least until we can have them all jailed for treason.

    Which, if we set this up correctly, should take about three weeks.