18 May 2009

Sensible Global Warming Expert?

No, dear reader, you did not misread that headline. And no, I did not mistype. I believe I've stumbled across the first and only sensible global warming "expert" on earth.

Most of you should know my stance on the myth of "global warming" by now. Let me be clear. I fully support maintaining a clean environment, reducing pollutants, increasing energy efficiency, etc. But I wholeheartedly denounce the concept that humans possess the ability to significantly alter the climate of the earth through things like CO2 emissions, and that we should destroy our economies in pursuit of the ethereal and vague definition of "earth-friendly." Just for fun, let's review one of my favorite climate-related graphs, reflecting actual scientific research, not just speculation.

This graph shows virtually no correlation between temperatures and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, but a very good correlation between earth temperatures and a little something I like to call THE SUN!!!!! Sorry for shouting. I just wanted to make sure we're all on the same page.

So I stumbled across this article in Barron's today. It's an interview with Bjorn Lomborg (don't feel bad, I had no idea who he was either), who is apparently a global warming "expert." In fact, the UK's The Guardian has called him one of the "50 people who could save the planet." I guess he's like Superman, only instead of synthetic spandex he wears a bamboo jumpsuit. Surprisingly, though, Lomborg feels the same way I do about the upcoming climate change summit to be held in Copenhagen in December.
The participating nations will again agree to spend quite a bit of money to cut carbon emissions and again achieve virtually nothing. We already tried that twice -- in Rio in 1992, and in Kyoto in 1997. Both of these treaties failed. We will see a lot of posturing, but presumably this isn't about having a lot of environmental ministries or even presidents and prime ministers come out and claim credit for making costly commitments that we won't be able to live up to, and which would barely make a dent in the problem anyway. When I first started in the global-warming debate, I was struck by the fact that the world was going to pay $180 billion a year for a protocol that could at best reduce the temperature by 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the 21st century. The U.N. estimates that for less than half that amount, we could provide clean drinking water, sanitation, and basic health care and education to every single human being on the planet. The same warped sense of priorities will continue to bedevil us this December in Copenhagen.
He also had this to say about taxing carbon emissions, cap-and-trade, and the like.
The main difficulty with global warming is that fossil fuels are not only fairly cheap, they also make this world so rich and so good to live in by providing us with all the amenities that we see around us: light, heat, the ability to propel ourselves to many different places. So we aren't going to give up fossil fuels without having a great alternative. Right now there is no good alternative to fossil fuels...Everybody seems to be saying, let's make carbon-emitting fossil fuels so expensive, nobody will want to use them. But that is bound to fail.

Cap-and-trade is essentially a system for trading permits to emit gases, like carbon dioxide, that are blamed for global warming. The problem is that it makes possible immense amounts of gaming the system through political lobbying. Because typically, most of these permits are given away, which is one of the big things the Obama Administration is talking about right now. The companies that had the most benefit from Kyoto in Europe were the energy companies. That is because, at least for the first three or four years, these companies got all the permits to pollute, but the companies still charged their customers -- me and everybody else. So they made tens of billions of euros each year from climate-change policies. Not surprisingly, they are very much in favor of these policies, but it doesn't mean that they are smart policies.

That sums up the carbon tax/cap-and-trade issue as succintly as I've heard any progressive or conservative do yet. Then Lomborg gets asked this idiotic question: "But isn't it smart to prevent global warming as soon as possible -- to avoid seeing Manhattan under 20 feet of water in ten years?" Seriously? I would love to see the scientific data that supports that. Here is his response.
That makes for vivid imagery, but it isn't what the science is telling us. According to the thousands of scientists the U.N. asked to evaluate the data, the sea-level rise between now and 2100 will be somewhere between six inches and two feet -- not 20 feet -- with most estimates around one foot. Now, we have already seen a foot of sea-level rise over the last 150 years, so it will be a bit faster by 2100. But it certainly gives you perspective. Was the 20th century marked particularly by the fact that the sea level rose? Well, there were two world wars, the suffrage of women, the internal-combustion engine, the IT revolution -- and the sea level rose. Let's hope the 21st century sees no world wars, but do you think the sea-level rise will be any more important? That doesn't mean it isn't a problem, but it's a problem we can deal with...And if it really were true that Manhattan will be 20 feet underwater in 10 years, there would be no time to reverse global warming anyway.
The fact that he sites UN scientists and estimates as grounds for refuting that claim is great, considering that most UN climate change estimates are politically charged fodder for the liberal/progressive movement. So if the UN estimates debunk that assumptions, you can rest assured that actual scientific data will be even more convincing. Lomborg goes on to trash anti-capitalist/free market concepts of environmental protections.
The United Nations science consensus expects temperature increases of three to seven degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, which the world can deal with, especially if the world is allowed to grow richer between now and then...We do know that rich, well-structured, robust societies deal much better with catastrophe than weak, poorly structured societies. We also know the way to build those societies isn't to cripple the global economy by forcing it off fossil fuels before viable alternatives are available. Meanwhile, three-fourths of the world's people live in abject poverty, while some sit and fret about the possible end of the world in 100 years. For too many of those others, the world ends tomorrow.
Once again, he does a nice job of putting the "climate crisis" in perspective. He also addresses the issues of increased climate-related deaths by saying, "While warming will mean about 400,000 more heat-related deaths globally, it will mean 1.8 million fewer cold-related deaths." But he also states that those numbers are based off of the only study that has been done on that particular issue. He advocates more sensible measures to control temperature-related deaths, like planting trees and increasing access to water supplies, instead of reducing CO2 emissions, which would have virtually no effect. Lomborg then addresses the concern that many environmentalists have about the effects of global warming on our oceans' marine life.
There is some validity to that concern. But the claim that this could be catastrophic for marine life seems greatly exaggerated, since we know there have been vastly higher carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere some 50 to 500 million years ago, at a time when the ocean was very rich in marine life. And even if we imagine such a catastrophe could happen, let's get a grip on its human impact. We get about 1% of our calories from the seas and about 5% of our protein.
He also explains why what he is saying is so contradictory to everything you see and read in the media.
Well, there are several reasons. It is partly because they don't read the U.N. reports, which on many of these issues confirm what I am saying very clearly. And since the sensational always goes over better than the merely sensible, stories in the media play into the stereotype of global warming.
And last of all, he takes a quick jab at Al Gore.
Al Gore talks about global warming as our generational mission. He asks how we want to be remembered by our kids and grandkids. Well, why would anyone want to be remembered for having spent $180 billion to do virtually no good a hundred years from now, when less than half that sum could fix virtually all major problems today? With better information, most of us would have no difficulty choosing how we want to be remembered.
Now don't get me wrong, there are plenty of issues on which I disagree with Lomborg (principally, the fact that global warming is a significant problem), but I fully respect his right to his own opinion. What is admirable about his view is that it is based in reality and hard facts, unlike that of most eco-nuts.

And maybe that's why I'm so drawn to this article. I think that we, in general, and Americans in particular, have lost the ability to come to rational, reasonable conclusions that are not emotionally charged (i.e. tree sitters). We have forgotten what it is like to work toward a common goal, even if we have different paths to get there. This is true now, more than ever, in the political realm, as well. Republicans and Democrats are in a power tug-of-war, each pulling in the opposite direction of the other. And those few politicians who are working toward a common goal are striving for something completely undesirable, and wholly independent of the needs and wishes of their constituency. Like SOCIALISM.

As Americans, we need to get back to the basics of cooperation. What are the things we have in common? We all want what's best for our family, financial security, high quality of life, to help those less fortunate, etc. We just may have different ideas on how to get there. And that's ok. In fact, that's healthy. The achievement of each of these goals is not a zero-sum game. It is possible to help the needy without bankrupting our country. We can obtain individual financial security while still helping our neighbors. We can preserve our natural resources without committing economic suicide through unsustainable eco-initiatives. What the world needs is more people like Bjorn Lomborg. People who hold firm to their beliefs, regardless of their popularity, but understand the importance of cooperation and seeing the whole picture. No, I don't agree with everything that Mr. Lomborg believes. But I firmly believe we need people like Lomborg to balance the scale of opinions and policies. We can all benefit from a little constructive dissent.

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