I have read ideas saying to some effect that global warming is about the goverment getting more power and control. My question is in what ways (if any) would global warming potentially give more power and or control to the government.

Please note: I am not asking if global warming is real, human-caused, etc. - that is irrelevant to this question.

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    IF you mean more regulations on air pollution, smog, carbon dioxide etc...than I would say it does.
    – Noah
    Apr 27, 2017 at 22:44
  • @DavidBlomstrom No, the question is not suggesting or asking if the government is causing global warming. The answers given so far are great and address what I was trying to ask. (I will accept one soon.)
    – jlars62
    Apr 28, 2017 at 15:28
  • I'd say that unrestrained polluters drastically altering the environment that we were adapted to after billions of years of evolution would be giving those polluters a lot of power they aren't entitled to. May 23, 2017 at 18:58
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because responding to "I have read ideas to some effect..." is just going to be speculation. (Can you cite some actual examples of what you read?)
    – user1530
    May 23, 2017 at 20:48
  • @blip I disagree and I will try to explain why. The responses/answers are not in response to "I have read ideas...". They are in response to the question which is the second sentence (and imo is quite clear). The first sentence only adds context to the question (so perhaps I should remove it). The question could still stand without it. Expounding on the first sentence with references would only add more context and distract more from the actual question.
    – jlars62
    May 23, 2017 at 21:20

4 Answers 4


It's a fair question especially because it's often argued by people who question the science and think the government is behind global warming. There's not much evidence behind it.

First, we need to define what government power really is, because it's a phrase that is thrown around like a Frisbee a lot, but usually not well defined.

I've heard it argued that social security numbers when assigned, some people said "this is bad, the government can track people with them" and the counter argument was "no, this is just for social security payments, we're not going to use these for tracking individuals, but today, you can't have a conversation with the government without listing your social security number. Is that a true story? I have no idea, I only use it as an example.

There's generally speaking, 2 kinds of control, information and restriction. Information is simply "I know everything you're doing. I have recordings of all your phone calls, all your texts, all your medical records. I'm big brother and if you did it, I know about it."

Restriction (for lack of a better word) is more direct. "If you chop down that tree, shoot that animal, jump over this fence, walk onto that base, stay out past curfew or hack into that website, you will be arrested". Enforcement of laws that limit behaviour.

Climate change laws can take a few approaches. A tax on fossil fuels, a tax on incandescent lights, a tax on larger cars. Tax breaks for driving an electric car or installing solar panels. While it could be argued that any kind of tax is restrictive, it's not a very good argument. If that was the case, then larger government expenditures like military spending, and entitlements like Medicare, Medicaid & social security should be argued as government over-reaches. The people who say climate change is a government over-reach rarely extend it to taxation and government expenditures, so that part of the argument doesn't really fly. Taxation certainly can be restrictive. Over-taxation can certainly be a form of restrictive/controlling government, but if climate change works out to be a 1%-2% increase in taxes for an average person, that's pretty far from a compelling financial argument.

Laws that require carpooling might be seen as a nuisance, but again, that's hardly something the government does to "control" people, it can be done to reduce traffic congestion. A nuisance isn't necessarily a power over-reach. People accept the nuisance of greater airline security for example for increased peace of mind.

If the government was to track individual carbon output, which, there's zero plans to do, only corporate output, then what would that tell them? How much people drive? How hot they keep their homes? None of that information is particularly useful, as opposed to bridge tolls and EZ-Pass, which can tell governments a lot about when and where you are. Total carbon footprint in and of itself says very little. If they got super-anal, maybe they could see how many miles a person drives, but not where too. Again - that's not very useful information for spying on someone.

Any tax and any information gathered can be regarded as some degree of government power-grabbing, but ignoring the upside and just looking at what the government potentially has to gain by trying to tax and/or reduce carbon footprint, there's not enough information there. There's also the factor that the government has to direct resources and man-hours on this new task.

If the government tracks my internet surfing, and they do this to try to find Isis sympathizers, so they do it with everyone. If they record all my cell phone calls, again, trying to find terrorists or drug dealers by looking for key-words - that gives them a ton of information about me. If they know how much fuel I use - that doesn't tell them very much. If they forbid me from buying incandescent light-bulbs and I have to use those hideous florescent ones, that's annoying, but such actions to address an environmental threat aren't what I'd call a power-grab so much as a beneficial sacrifice (and last time I checked, I can still buy incandescent bulbs and if their cost goes up - I don't think a doubling of my light-bulb budget will kill my bottom line).

People are afraid of government over-reach, perhaps justifiably. But climate change and the proposals to address it, isn't a good example of that. That won't stop some people from making that point though. Fear, faux outrage and repetition often trump common sense.

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    Comments deleted.This is not the place to debate if global warming is real. Please only post comments which address the content of the answer.
    – Philipp
    Apr 28, 2017 at 11:10
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    "The power to tax is the power to destroy" Marbury vs Madison. Still think that the power to tax isn't restrictive? And it's not a good argument?
    – user9790
    May 23, 2017 at 20:02
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    Show me a government that operates without taxes, and we'll talk. Till then, that's just sensationalism. If we accept taxes as an unavoidable part of government, with the intention to operate the common good and by democratic process, then we need to look more deeply, which is what I tried to do. My answer is wordy, I admit. I cringe reading it, but to simply quip that tax has power to destroy, is to miss the point. Tax also has the power to create fairness, safety, equality, representation, national parks, monuments, win wars, land on the moon and promote education.
    – userLTK
    May 23, 2017 at 20:42

Turn the question around: what powers would acknowledging global warming give governments that they don't already have? The power to levy a tax on fuels? Already got it; already using it. The power to regulate emissions? Already doing that one too. Anything you can think of that governments might do in response to global warming is something they already have the power to do and are already doing to some extent. All global warming does is change how they exercise those powers. So, for example, instead of taxing fuels by volume (as they do now with gasoline taxes), they might choose to tax them by carbon content. Or, in addition to chemical scrubbers on power plants (already required on coal-fired plants), governments might also require carbon capture and storage.

None of these are new powers, and none of them represent any kind of increase in government intrusion into private enterprise; they are just changes in the details of how existing policies would be applied. That's not to suggest that policies to counter global warming wouldn't have very real costs; they certainly would. However, "increased government power" wouldn't be among them.


The things a government would need to do to limit the environmental impact from its territory generally rest on monitoring and limiting things that are currently free. IE to limit carbon from burning wood we might make laws limiting fireplaces, an expansion of existing powers.

Pretty much all environmental laws require making new laws or using old ones in new ways. So trivially giving government power to limit global warming gives government more power. Clearly limiting your ability to damage the planet limits your freedom.

However, generally the people who worry about this mean environmental laws leading to government better controlling people and economies for other purposes. This is less certain and has attracted close votes.

It really depends on what policies are made and how they are enforced and managed, but it's hard to imagine global warming people will call for getting farther up your butt than the security people already are.

  • 2
    And, if we get to semantics, it is not as much the government "getting more power" as "using the power it already has in new ways" (i.e., I guess few governments needed to change their country Constitution to get themselves more powers in order to enact the laws). Nice answer anyway.
    – SJuan76
    Apr 28, 2017 at 9:34
  • @SJuan76 I was meaning powers enforced rather than potential powers allowed. I'm not totally convinced constitutions are meaningful limiters of potential powers.
    – user9389
    Apr 28, 2017 at 13:09

Power, not really. I am not aware of any country that would have extended the powers of the executive branch because of global warming.

Regulations and public investments, yes.

There is a simple reason behind it: fossil fuels are generally a little cheaper. It may not be the case in a few years, both thanks to research on cheaper renewables and more expensive fossil energy extraction. But until then, without a public incentive (tax break or investments on renewables), there would not be much efforts done to reduce CO2 emissions. After all, the whole point of a liberal economy is to let companies choose the way of production, assuming the "invisible hand" will make them do the right choice, and they always go for the cheapest.


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