The real climate change catastrophe Misguided energy policies are harming the world’s poor
The real climate change catastrophe: that abject, lethal poverty will be perpetuated in the name of preventing a climate problem that extensive evidence indicates is manageable and primarily natural in origin.
Our planet is again warming slightly, and the weather keeps taking unexpected turns. Many scientists say this is hardly unprecedented, cause for alarm, or proof that humans are now the dominant factor in climate change. Others disagree strongly, and point to every snowstorm, hurricane, deluge or drought as proof that urgent action is needed to avoid imminent climate catastrophe.
Britain’s Royal Society wants ExxonMobil to further squelch debate, by ending its funding of researchers who say natural forces are the primary factor in climate change. (The Society didn’t mention the $250,000 award that scientist James Hansen received from Teresa Heinz-Kerry for insisting that humans are the cause.) Others have threatened climate alarmism skeptics with “Nuremberg-style war crimes trials.”
“Socially responsible” investor services refuse to recommend corporations they deem insufficiently sensitive on climate change. Companies have brought climate activists into their board rooms, lobbied Congress for climate and ethanol legislation, and retooled to produce new product lines they hope will boost tax subsidies, profits and favorable PR. Meanwhile, headlines hype every scary scenario.
Asserting “the science is settled” ignores the debate that still rages. Proclaiming that “climate change is real” ignores Earth’s constant, natural warming, cooling and weather anomalies. Most important, our current knowledge simply does not justify imposing inhumane policies on the world’s poorest citizens.
Four times, mile-thick ice sheets smothered Europe and North America. A thousand years ago, Vikings raised crops and cattle in Greenland, while Britons grew grapes in England. Four centuries later, the Norsemen were frozen out, Europe was gripped in a Little Ice Age, and priests performed exorcisms on glaciers advancing toward Swiss villages. The globe warmed in 1850-1940, cooled for the next 35 years, then warmed slightly again.
Detroit experienced six snowstorms in April 1868, frosts in August 1869, a 98-degree heat wave in June 1874, and ice-free lakes in January 1877. Wisconsin’s record high of 114 degrees F in July 1936 was followed five years later by a record July low of 46. In 1980, five years after Newsweek’s “new little ice age” cover story, Washington, DC endured 67 days above 90 degrees.
Studies by National Academy of Sciences, NOAA, Danish and other scientists raise additional inconvenient truths that contradict catastrophic climate change hypotheses and computer models. The Southern Hemisphere has not warmed in the past 25 years. The “hockey stick” temperature graph (which claimed 1990-2000 was the hottest decade in 1000 years) broke under scrutiny.
The sun’s radiant heat and cosmic ray levels affect planetary warming and cooling and cloud formation more strongly than most climate alarmists and models acknowledge. Contrary to 2005 assertions and predictions, interior Greenland and Antarctica are gaining ice mass, not losing it; Gulf Stream circulation has not slowed; and the US is yet to be hit by a major hurricane in 2006.
All in all, nothing suggests that predominantly human influences have suddenly supplanted the natural forces that clearly caused climate and weather cycles in past centuries. Yet, many still demand immediate action to prevent future climate change. Few appreciate how costly (and futile) such actions would be.
Government and private studies calculate that the Kyoto Protocol would cost the US up to $348 billion in 2012, and average American families would pay an extra $2,700 annually for energy and consumer goods. In US minority communities, concludes another, the climate treaty would destroy 1.3 million jobs and “substantially affect” standards of living.
Globally, Kyoto carries a $1 trillion annual price tag, in regulatory bills, higher energy costs and lost productivity, according to economist Bjorn Lomborg. That’s several times what it would cost to provide the world with clean drinking water and sanitation – which would prevent millions of deaths annually from intestinal diseases.
Over 2 billion of the Earth’s citizens – including 95% of Africans – still do not have electricity. That means no lights, refrigerators, stoves, radios, televisions or computers; no modern homes, hospitals, schools, offices or factories. Instead, people breathe polluted smoke from wood and dung fires, and die by the millions from lung diseases.
The world should be rushing to their aid. Instead, in the name of preventing hypothetical climate change, environmentalists and rich countries oppose fossil fuel power plants in poor countries. To “protect wild rivers,” they obstruct hydroelectric projects. On the ground that it is “inherently dangerous,” they resist nuclear power. In short, they are telling a third of the world’s people:
“You cannot have modern, healthy, industrialized societies. Your only option is trivial amounts of expensive, unreliable electricity from wind and solar. To safeguard the world from speculative risks that we are concerned about, you must endure life-threatening dangers that perpetuate poverty, disease and childhood death in your destitute nations.”
To top it off, just as thousands of delegates and activist are about to board CO2-emitting jetliners to attend the 2006 global warming confab in Kenya, the European Union has proposed taxes on imports from China, India and other poor nations that are exempt from Kyoto. The EU claims the exemption gives poor countries an “unfair trade advantage” over EU countries that are struggling to meet even their initial treaty commitments. (Some have increased CO2 emissions by 20-50% since 1990, despite signing the treaty.)
Others are blaming malaria and malnutrition on climate change, to deflect well-founded charges that their callous opposition to insecticides and biotechnology is killing more African babies.
For nearly everyone – especially the world’s poor – it will be all pain, and no gain. Even perfect compliance with the Kyoto Protocol would result in Earth’s temperature being only 0.2 degrees F less by 2050 than if we did little or nothing. Assuming humans really are the culprits, actually controlling theoretical global temperature increases would require 40 Kyoto treaties – each one imposing greater government control over energy use and prices, emissions, and housing, transportation, heating, cooling and manufacturing decisions.
Alarmists demand that we handcuff modern economies, to promote solutions that won’t solve a problem which extensive evidence suggests is moderate, manageable and primarily natural in origin.
Infinitely worse, they use faulty models, extreme what-if scenarios and exaggerated fears of climate cataclysm to justify depriving Earth’s most impoverished citizens of electricity, water purification and other modern technologies that would improve and save countless lives.
That is unconscionable and immoral. It is the real climate change catastrophe.
Truly ethical and socially responsible policies would foster robust debate about costs, benefits, models and every other aspect of climate change – and ensure rapid technological and economic advancement (including modern pollution controls) in Third World countries.
They would leave critical development decisions to the real stakeholders: not climate alarmists – but those who must live with the consequences of decisions that affect their access to energy, health, hope, opportunity and prosperity.
Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of many articles on energy and the environment. He has degrees in sciences and environmental law.