Energy & Environment

Whose hand will be on the global climate crisis thermostat?


“The Invisible Hand” is a notion coined by Adam Smith in the context of economics, and in particular, the free-market capitalist system. It’s a well-chosen image of how such markets work in a free society. If you’re not familiar with it, this Investopedia entry should help:

“The invisible hand is a metaphor for the unseen forces that move the free market economy. Through individual self-interest and freedom of production as well as consumption, the best interest of society, as a whole, are fulfilled. The constant interplay of individual pressures on market supply and demand causes the natural movement of prices and the flow of trade.

The invisible hand is part of laissez-faire, meaning a “let do/let go,” approach to the market. In other words, the approach holds that the market will find its equilibrium without government or other interventions forcing it into unnatural patterns,” (emphasis added).

In a similar way, the concept of an invisible hand has relevance to contemporary concerns about global climate change, and in particular, how human activity contributes or does not contribute to it.

Virtually all scientists recognize that climate change is nothing new. Where they disagree is to what extent, if any, man’s activity is causing the current warming period. Alarmists rely on dubious models to make dire predictions for the near future (e.g., “in 10 years your house will be underwater!”), many of which prove to quite inaccurate. But they make headlines and instill the right kind of fear, so they keep coming.

The concept of equilibrium is surely involved here, as is “the constant interplay” of individual human behavior. Most critically, though not explicitly mentioned, is the frenzied pursuit of vast sums of research dollars from widespread public and private sources, as well as the political-correctness considerations in play. Those in this pursuit include institutions of higher education, many of which have created entire departments of “Sustainability” to secure these funds. Dreams of global influence and human behavioral control invite delusions of grandeur. Distortion of facts, data, and all aspects of related research is an obvious temptation.

Rather than bog down in consideration of these obvious and widespread socio-political factors and their potential leverage for global power, I wish to raise more foundational, yet vital questions.

Let’s begin with a personal example. You likely have a thermostat that allows you to set the desired temperature of your living spaces. Some premises have multiple thermostats, each controlling an individual zone. Similarly, some control both heating and cooling with these devices.

A thermostat is a simple control designed to keep air temperature within a range of a few degrees. It determines when to turn on the heat (or A/C) until the desired temperature is reached, at which point it turns the system off. Typically, the temperature begins to drift below (or with A/C, above) the desired setting, and the system cycles on again to keep conditions in the comfort range.

The key point is that a thermostat is designed to keep air temperature within a range of a few degrees. It does not turn the heat on and leave it on until you get up and turn it off, or the opposite for air conditioning. This would be inconvenient.

A typical use might be as follows: For half the year, outside air temperatures are comfortable enough that heating and air conditioning are not particularly necessary. Then fall comes with a chill in the air, and one day the wife says, “I’m chilly, dear; could you turn the heat on please?” So, you set the thermostat several degrees above the ambient room temp, and the heating system cycles on and off to raise the room temp to a more comfortable range.

You likely turn the thermostat down when you head up to bed and turn it back on the next day when personal comfort dictates. This is the exact opposite of “the invisible hand”; you personally have control of the temperature in your own living spaces. You don’t need a “consensus of worldwide climate scientists,” driving global government control of human behaviors, to set things for you.

Contrast this with ongoing world “expert” deliberations over responding to a variation in average global temperatures, the details of which are imprecise and subject to constant challenge. And don’t forget the tendency to claim “the planet is on fire” to capture generous long-term funding, and most importantly, consolidate power over human behavior.

Today we’re at a point where the popular view holds that global temperatures are climbing, and that the rise in recent decades needs to be reversed. All focus is on minimizing “carbon footprint” to reduce greenhouse gases. I have never heard any “expert” say we need to reverse “X degrees” of warming, or specify what the ideal target temperature for the Earth is.

Under these circumstances, the critical questions are: if we stem global warming, and average temperatures decrease, at what level do we stop cooling the planet, and just how do we do that? In other words, how do experts exert control over the global thermostat so that “ambient temperatures” stay within a narrow band of acceptable levels? In the same vein, how long will it take to lower temperatures when called for, and how long to raise them when that becomes necessary?

Perhaps the scientific climate elite could publish “The Dummies Guide to Global Climate Control” to answer these pivotal questions for us.

An even more important question dwarfs the concerns above: whose hand will be on the global thermostat, and which means will they use to control the system? This applies to increases, decreases, and equilibrium.

Who will anoint them with this power, and are we really willing to grant such God-like powers to a single human being? How, Dear Lord, would such a Czar be held accountable?

Or, all things considered, would we be better off to let the Earth find its own climate equilibrium without governmental or other interventions forcing it into unnatural patterns?

Just as it has for centuries.

This is not a trivial choice; but choosing who should have their hand on the thermostat is even more perilous and profound. Sadly, current trends in human morality, integrity and character do not inspire confidence that such a choice is possible without corruption of one sort or another entering the equation.

No matter; by the time the consequences of such existential choices have played out, most of us will be in more stable temperature settings, if you get my point. Heating and cooling bills and energy choices will be left for others to worry about.

About Pem Schaeffer

Pem Schaeffer is a retired engineer who progressed to a position in business development leadership in defense electronics. He lives and writes in Brunswick, Maine, and blogs at: He can be reached at or you can always buy him lunch at an MHPC luncheon. He's easy that way, and he'll still respect you if you do.

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