Well, I guess the chicks at the Cato Institute won’t be flinging their undies at Mark Sanford anymore. The Cato Institute is America’s leading libertarian think tank, where great minds fight for your right to opt out of Social Security, avoid government-mandated health care, and — of course — smoke pot.

Until recently, Gov. Sanford has been a rock star in libertarian Republican circles. Whenever some beltway “compassionate conservative,” shipping tax-funded pork back home, would mock small-government Republicans for not being able to win elections, “Governor Mark Sanford” was a handy retort.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Gov. Sanford, the poster boy for limited government, has drunk deep the Kool-Aid of big government, and on the biggest, governmentiest issue of all: global warming.

He’s appointing a commission! He’s considering legislation! He’s going to use the mighty power of the South Carolina legislature to turn back the winds, stem the tide and save the world!

Like I said, libertarians smoke a lot of pot.

Though I am not a member, I admire libertarians for their blunt assessment of the limitations of government. It can’t make people “good.” It can’t create a society where dumb people are as successful as smart ones. They openly concede that government attempts to solve big problems (economic disparity, racism) usually result in even bigger problems (Communism, Al Sharpton).

Global warming is the perfect example. About 1,000 years ago, the world was experiencing the Medieval Warm Period. People farmed the now-frozen tundra of Greenland. The America that greeted the Pilgrims was in the throes of the Little Ice Age. Londoners had festivals on the frozen Thames — a sight never seen before.

Is there anything any government could have done in either era to stop the drastic warming or cooling of their day? To answer “yes” is to reveal one’s ignorance. Or one’s membership in the Democratic Party.

This time, we’re told, it’s different. The world hasn’t been this hot in 400/600/1,000 years (take your pick of panicked media reports). Of course, the fact that the world has been this hot before — and without the benefit of the internal combustion engine — might be seen as evidence that the climate will change with or without us.

Is the climate changing? Of course. It’s always changing. 1934 was the hottest year on record. After that, temperatures dropped for 40 years, even as we fired up more factories, cranked out more cars, and set off dozens of nuclear blasts.

That’s why the debate in the 1970s was about global cooling and the coming Ice Age. Drastic government measures were suggested but, thankfully, nothing was done.

Then Planet Earth, ignoring the reportage from Newsweek, began getting warmer. And once again, costly government action is proposed.

How costly? In the past month, both Massachusetts and California have announced state-run “fight the carbon!” programs like those on Sanford’s horizon. These government efforts will raise the price of running factories and heating homes by millions (Massachusetts) or billions (California) of dollars each year. Every driver, worker, and homeowner is going to pay these costs in taxes, lost jobs, or both.

By comparison, South Carolina is so small that more people live in the Boston area than live in the entire Palmetto State. We’re not competing for manufacturing jobs with high-tech Massachusetts or California, but with China and India — two nations that have already rejected the Kyoto Treaty and promise to keep the CO2 pedal to the economic metal.

This is why I’m so stunned that a smart guy like Mark Sanford would get into the global warming business. Even the global warming kooks admit, when forced, that humans have a relatively small impact on the earth’s temperature. The best estimates are that Kyoto, fully implemented, might lower temperatures 100 years from now by half a degree or so.

And the cost of trying to impact the weather by cutting back basic emissions like carbon dioxide — you know, the stuff we exhale — is enormous. We’re talking trillions of dollars worth of economic activity — you know, the jobs we need — would have to stop.

So we’re going to cripple our own economy and throw people of jobs, not because the world’s getting warmer (it might be doing that without us) but because we hope — hope — the two-degree temperature increase in a century will be a 1.5 degrees?

This isn’t the philosophy of a libertarian. It’s the posturing of a candidate for national office. And, as an opening ploy in a bid for the vice presidency, it makes good political sense.

But, Governor Sanford, you’re breaking a lot of libertarian hearts along the way.

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