The latest addition to the “Politically Incorrect Guide” series put out by Regnery Publishing (a HUMAN EVENTS sister company) addresses global warming, and it may be the most appropriate and timely one yet. There are few if any issues with as much daylight between political correctness and reality than there is with global warming. Nor is there any current debate where the politically correct version of affairs — that mankind and especially Americans are substantially heating up the planet, and that we’ll suffer dire consequences unless the government imposes strict controls on energy use — is being more aggressively marketed in the media and in Congress. But the author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism,” Christopher Horner, provides ample ammunition for those who wish to oppose grandiose new federal and international measures that could do considerably more harm than good.
Before delving into the specifics of global warming, the book provides a history of the environmental movement. It is not a pretty picture. The book’s underlying thesis is that many environmental activists don’t really care all that much about the environment per se. If they did, they would have noticed how much worse the environment was behind the Iron Curtain than in the West and would never endorse central planning as a panacea. But that is essentially all they ever do.
According to Horner, environmentalists have for decades offered up one scare after another in order to justify their big-government agenda to clamp down on economic growth and technological advance and exert more influence over people’s lives. In his view, global-warming is but the latest in this long series of politically motivated scares.
Sound too strong? Lest anyone think so, Horner provides an eye-opening overview of pre-global-warming gloom and doom scenarios, many pushed by the same individuals and organizations now on the warming bandwagon. For example, Paul Ehrlich, now a committed warrior against global warming, gained fame in the late 1960s by predicting mass famines in the U.S during the 1970s and 1980s, that “hundreds of millions of people will soon perish in smog disasters in New York and Los Angeles” and that “U.S. life expectancy will drop to 42 years by 1980 due to cancer epidemics.”
Strangely, each putative crisis, no matter how different from one another, came with the same solution — a big government crackdown on economic freedom and prosperity.
Amazingly, Horner relates that global cooling was a popular scare for a time in the 1970s, replete with fears of a pollution-induced ice age. One global-cooling alarmist (and now frequently quoted global-warming “expert”) Stephen Schneider once admitted that “[t]o capture the public imagination, we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have. Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective and being honest.”
History of Natural Warming
Nonetheless, Horner concedes (as do most so-called “climate skeptics”) that there is some scientific validity to the theory of man-made global warming. The release of carbon dioxide, a natural constituent of the atmosphere but also the byproduct of all fossil fuel combustion, has a warming effect on the planet. But Horner asserts that such man-made warming is far from catastrophic.
He begins by distinguishing man-made from natural warming. Temperatures have increased over the last century and especially the last 30 years, and many point to this as evidence of a dangerous human-induced warming. But temperatures have risen and fallen many times before that — including a cooling period from the 1940s to 1970s that gave rise to the global-cooling scare. Horner also notes that the so-called Medieval Warm Period (around 1100 to 1400, well before SUV-driving Americans could be blamed) had temperatures that rivaled or exceeded those of today. Scientists dispute how much current warming is due to mankind, but the historical context shows that natural climate fluctuations are both normal and substantial.
Beyond the question about whether warming is natural or man-made, Horner also demonstrates that the consequences will likely be modest. Virtually all of the truly terrifying claims linked to global warming — massive sea-level rise, epidemics of malaria and other tropical diseases, and greatly increased hurricanes — are not true and lie outside any scientific consensus. They get far more play in Al Gore’s documentary and book, An Inconvenient Truth, than they do among scientists. Horner’s extensive scientific footnotes on this point show that there is considerable support for his assertions.
Kyoto Costly, but Deficient
While there has been too much alarm over the risks of global warming, there has not been enough alarm over the economic risks of misguided global-warming policies. Fossil fuels — coal, oil, and natural gas — provide the world with most of its energy. It would be costly and intrusive to ratchet down these hydrocarbon emissions enough to make even a modest dent in the earth’s future temperature.
The Kyoto Protocol, the multilateral global-warming treaty that places a cap on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, will actually accomplish very little. If fully implemented, its energy rationing provisions could cost hundreds of billions of dollars annually but will, according to proponents, avert only 0.07 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2050. Thus, the costs of capping carbon dioxide emissions are large and immediate, but the benefits are minuscule and far off.
Given the Kyoto Protocol’s modest impact on warming, many proponents believe that the treaty should be just a first step towards much stronger controls. But even this first step is proving prohibitively expensive. The European Union nations that have signed onto the Kyoto Protocol — and regularly criticize the U.S. for failing to join them — are falling considerably short of its requirements. Nearly every Western European nation has higher carbon emissions today than when the treaty was first signed in 1997, and emissions increases show no signs of leveling off. Compliance with Kyoto’s looming targets is all but impossible for most of these countries. In fact, many are seeing their emissions rising faster than those of the U.S. Emissions from developing nations (which are exempt from Kyoto’s energy-rationing provisions) are also increasing, and China will soon emit more carbon dioxide than the U.S., thanks largely to growing coal usage. Nonetheless, America-bashing (and especially Bush-bashing) remains a common theme among global-warming activists.
Discussing the issue just in terms of the dollars involved misses the true impact. The high cost of any serious attempt to comply with the Kyoto Protocol will itself create harm. Nations made poorer by squandering vast resources on this treaty (not to mention more stringent subsequent measures) will have less to devote to more pressing concerns. Wealth that could be better used on things such as disease prevention, alleviating malnutrition and creating safe water supplies will not be available if spent on Kyoto compliance, which many experts believe should be a lower priority.
Flawed Hurricane Link
Kyoto could exacerbate some of the very problems the treaty purports to alleviate. Take hurricanes. Vast amounts could be spent trying to mitigate global warming as an indirect means of reducing hurricane damage — even though Horner cites many studies questioning the claimed link between global warming and stronger hurricanes. Nonetheless, the resources used won’t be available for improvements in warning systems, flood control, building codes, evacuation plans, relief efforts or anything else that could have actually made a difference with Katrina and with future hurricanes.
Consider the one big success story prior to Katrina — the million or more people who got into the family car and drove out of harm’s way in the days before the storm hit. If Kyoto-style energy restrictions made automobile ownership and use prohibitively expensive, many more would have been stranded in New Orleans and other coastal cities.
“The important thing to remember is that hurricanes — like malaria, floods and the entire global-warming parade of horribles — happen with or without global warming as posited, and the cure of policies imposing suppressed energy use, such as the Kyoto Protocol, make no one any safer, but only poorer and less able to deal with these ever-present threats,” Horner concludes.
Indeed, “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism” makes a strong case that there are issues where the proposed solutions are more dangerous than the problem.