Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote: “In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” On this winter day, awakening to a temperature reading of minus one degree, this old man’s thoughts turned toward global warming (or climate change, as it is now termed), and its relative importance in a world in which one third of the population lives amidst poverty and/or disease, and one in which Islamic extremists have barbarically assaulted Western culture.
Climate change has become a big and emotional political football. Both sides festoon their respective positions. Some on the Right are deniers, as are some on the Left. The former claim that man has had little impact on the environment, despite evidence that carbon emissions are rising. The latter state that if man simply eliminated his carbon imprint the planet would revert to the status quo. The Left, especially, uses embellishment to further their cause. They speak of polar bears disappearing off melting ice floes and forecast that whole communities will disappear into rising seas. Mainstream media news coverage, laced with alarm, furthers their cause.
The Left accuses those on the Right of being in the pay of oil companies, while they use government subsidies to pay off some of their largest financial backers. Even the upfront costs for Apple’s $848 million solar project – the world’s largest company by market capitalization – will be 30% funded by taxpayer subsidies. “Environmentalism,” as Holman Jenkins recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “is a church with its reformation nowhere in sight.”
A January headline, such as the one the BBC blurted out, “2014 Warmest Year on Record, Say US Researchers,” was like the risen Christ to climate religionists. The “pause,” which saw temperatures remain pretty much unchanged for fifteen years, had been inconvenient to the story they were telling. It was the reason why ‘global warming’ morphed into ‘climate change.’ Experts’ models never foresaw the global cooling that began in the 1940s, nor did they predict the warming cycle that began in the late 1970s. And their models certainly did not anticipate the pause that began in the last years of the last century. Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Center and author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It, recently wrote that the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “found that in the previous fifteen years temperatures had risen 0.09 degrees…90% less temperature rise than expected.” The cooling period that began in the 1940s is interesting because the World War, on a per person basis, likely created more pollution – with ships, aerial bombing and thousands of tanks and other smoke-belching equipment in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa – than at any other time in history. Yet the last year of the War did not see any warming. The U.S. Army Medical Department wrote at the time, “The winter of 1944-45 was the coldest and wettest in years.”
At times it feels like a replay of the Scopes trial, but with Clarence Darrow nowhere to be found. During his State of the Union message, President Obama fanned the flames of hyperbole: “I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying their not scientists. Well, I’m not a scientist either. But…I know a lot of good scientists at NASA and NOAA, and at our major universities.” But what NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and NOAA (National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration) reported was more nuanced than the headlines used by the President and the media. NOAA’s number crunchers put the probability that the planet had its warmest year in 2014 at 48 percent. NASA’s analysis came in at 38 percent. The Leftist media, which ran with alarmist headlines (like the BBC headline quoted above), were guilty of selective reporting, where hype beats facts and where conclusions matter more than evidence.
There are also, of course, U.N. watchdogs who love the climate-change boondoggles that allow them to travel (while emitting hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide) to Kyoto, Copenhagen, Lima, Paris and other exotic places. As an industry, climate alarmists and hangers-on consume billions of dollars – most of which is funded by taxpayers. The prophecies of these doomsayers are reminiscent of Old Testament prophets who foretold a terrible end for nonbelievers. Such assertions provide fodder for campaign rhetoric and they provide tax payer’s money for those invested in the solar and wind industries. But they risk the example of the boy who cried wolf. Will we become so focused on who to blame that we will fail to adapt when change does appear?
In the same article noted above by Mr. Lomborg – the most sensible voice in this debate – he noted that droughts, hurricanes and typhoons have decreased in the last 20 years. He references the Oxford University database for deaths from floods, extreme temperatures, droughts and storms which shows that deaths from such causes have declined 97% over the past 100 years.
Feel-good policies, such as encouraging solar and wind should be pursued, but they must be placed in perspective. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 0.4% of global energy consumption comes from solar photovoltaics and windmills. Even using optimistic assumptions about their adoptions, the IEA estimates that only 2.2% of the world’s energy will be produced by such sources in 2014.
The best antidote to help the environment is to reduce poverty. That can be best done by promoting the concept of democratic capitalism, which unfortunately has gone into decline in recent years. Nevertheless, it has done more to eradicate poverty than any other political system. About one quarter of the world’s population (1.3 billion people) live without electricity and on less than $1.25 a day. More than half of those do not have enough food. Three-quarters of them lack access to potable water. Eighty percent of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day. Hunger is the number one cause of death in the world, killing more people than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Preventable diseases, like diarrhea and pneumonia, take the lives of two million children every year.
If Shakespeare were writing of this era and of climate alarmists in particular, he would be hard pressed as to whether to cast Al Gore and Michael Moore in comedies or tragedies. While they are amusing in their exaggerated idiocy, they are more tragic in the sense they have successfully diverted attention and resources away from far more important problems, such as poverty, sanitation, water supply, disease and starvation. There is no question that we should be alert to a changing environment. Resources should be spent trying to analyze future trends. But climate change concerns must be put in perspective. There is no need for the arrogance that emanates so easily from the Left. Likewise, there should be no sense of schadenfreude on the part of the Right when climate alarmists are proven wrong.
The AEC’s fundamental goal is to promote a free, responsible and prosperous society. Through education and improving public understanding of key economic questions, the AEC promotes the idea of a free market economy and the ideal of a free society.