Nothing says ???the holidays??? like Christmas trees, eggnog, ugly sweaters, and no-holds-barred debates over global warming.
Every year it starts the same way; one relative casually remarks about the ???strange weather??? the world seems to be experiencing. Another relative then sternly rebukes the assertion: ???The weather is always the same; it???s the 24-hour news cycle that makes you think the climate is changing.???
And off we go. Few topics divide a crowd quite like global warming, and fewer issues are more misunderstood.
???The science is settled!??? global warming alarmists shout.
???It???s all a scam!??? respond the skeptics.
Meanwhile, lurking quietly in the preverbal dark corner, rests the truth. And, as often is the case with these sorts of debates, the truth is somewhere in between the radical and unfounded claims of the alarmists and the absolute and unequivocal rejections made by the skeptics.
The trouble with the global warming debate is that the complex nature of the topic has been dumbed down by many in the mainstream media who insist that warming is going to destroy the planet imminently. They display videos of crashing icebergs alongside photos of frowning polar bears, and it???s hard for any reasonable person with a pulse not to worry about a potential catastrophe.
It is true that over the past 100 years, global temperatures have undoubtedly warmed, likely by 0.7C; glaciers have certainly retreated; the populations of various plant and wildlife have declined or been forced to adapt to changing climate conditions; and all of these changes have occurred while CO2 levels have continued to dramatically rise following the start of the Industrial Revolution.
These concerns, however, are greatly overstated.
Although global climate conditions have evolved along with rising levels of CO2, skeptics rightly point out warming has ceased over the past 18 years; the rate of warming from 1978 to 1998 that sparked the current climate change movement is nearly matched by the rate of increase from 1910 to 1940; large glaciers began to retreat in the latter half of the 18th century???not within the past 30 years; and intensity and frequency of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and wild fires have not increased in recent years.
So why is it that 97 percent of scientists are said to support global warming? The answer has more to do with the question than it does the science of climate change. The survey conducted by the University of Illinois asked scientists whether they believe global mean temperatures have increased compared to ???pre-1800s levels,??? a claim virtually all modern global warming skeptics would answer ???yes??? to, and whether human activity is a ???significant contributing factor??? to changes to the climate. Because ???significant??? is very ambiguous in academic research, it???s not surprising 97 percent of respondents were found to answer in favor of climate change.
The real debate is not whether man is, in some way, contributing to climate change; it???s true that the science is settled on that point in favor of the alarmists. The true debate ought to be focused on the extent to which man is affecting the global climate, the validity of the so-called ???solutions??? to global warming, and if warming is really going to be the sort of catastrophe the media and alarmists keep telling the world it will be.
If the current estimated rate of warming continues, it could take more than a century before the world begins to see even modest problems related to global warming. The real fear espoused by alarmists is not that the current rate of change is dangerous; it???s that ???feedbacks??? caused by warmer temperatures, such as there being less ice and snow to reflect sunlight and there being more water evaporation, could cause the rate of warming to increase at detrimental levels.
On this point, there is no denying the alarmists have thus far been completely wrong. More than 90 percent of climate models put forward by alarmists have been inaccurate. The world is simply not experiencing the kind of changes Al Gore and his band of global warming fear mongers promised.
However, if climate change is occurring, even if it???s occurring at a very slow rate, the world must take the potential dangers related to this problem very seriously???more seriously than many of the global warming skeptics are currently willing to agree to.
True conservatism prioritizes the freedom of the individual, and most climate reforms abolish certain inalienable personal freedoms that must be upheld. But it does become necessary at certain moments in history for free peoples to sacrifice certain personal freedoms to expand others. In the case of climate change, it can reasonably argued that each person should be free to enjoy the planet and to oppose any manmade actions that will inevitably destroy Earth. It???s a rather extreme position to say that we ought to allow dangerous pollutants to destroy the only planet we know of that can completely sustain human life.
Proper climate change reforms also can serve many important long-term goals that improve the lives of Americans. Eventually, renewable and clean energy sources could become a great source of prosperity for the United States. Energy independence will also halt the dangerous trend of Americans sending their dollars overseas to nations that are notorious for human rights violations.
The problem with the reforms often proposed by many Democrats and other liberal politicians is that they unnecessarily force destructive economic policies on economies as if global warming must be resolved today. The evidence clearly shows it???s not nearly as imminent as those seeking to gain politically or financially say. There???s no reason the United States can???t continue drilling for oil and natural gas while searching for a cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution.
Climate change ought to be a real concern for people of all political persuasions, but it???s simply untrue that the world is on the precipice of disaster and does not have enough time to determine exactly how much influence humanity has on global temperature and develop technologies that can reduce CO2 emissions without destroying whole economies.
Justin Haskins (Jhaskins@heartland.org) is an author, blogger, and an editor of publications at The Heartland Institute, a leading free-market think tank based out of Chicago, IL. You can follow him @TheNewRevere.