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By Roy W. Spencer
Last month, Sir David King, the UK's chief scientific advisor, had an article in Science magazine in which he said "…climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today - more serious than the threat of terrorism." He claims that, even though the United States has taken the lead in the war on terrorism, we are dragging our heels on the ratification of the global warming treaty.
Under the United Nations Kyoto Protocol, greenhouse gas (mostly carbon dioxide) emissions cuts are being negotiated, with the UK claiming they can reduce their emissions to 60% of 1990 levels by the year 2050.
Instead, modern nations' CO2 emissions continue to grow slowly, rather than shrink. Developing nations' emissions are projected to grow rapidly as their economies strengthen. With today's technology, the energy required to fuel economies necessarily involves the production of CO2, mostly from petroleum and coal. Wind and solar power can only produce a small fraction of what is needed, unless we cover an area the size of Virginia with windmills. Nuclear retains a black eye in the U.S. that still hasn't healed.
Sir David summarizes the extremist case for catastrophic global warming. It is based upon predictions from the UK Hadley Center's climate model, which claims there will be more global warming than most other climate models. But as I touched on in my January 6 article, "Let Them Declare Their Faith", the science represented in these models is immature and large uncertainties abound.
Also, predictably, the benefits to humanity of global warming and increased CO2 concentrations, such as less severe winters and increased agricultural productivity, are ignored. Sir David's statement that UK greenhouse gas emissions intensity (emissions per dollar of GDP) has been steadily falling is a red herring -- it has been falling and will continue to fall dramatically in the U.S. as well.
But let us examine the charge that the U.S. should be showing leadership in CO2 reductions. Is the United States the "Great Satan" of the environment? Well, survey the world's countries. Where governments have allowed citizens to be rewarded for their ingenuity and hard work, environmental consciousness has naturally arisen. But this happens only after economies reach the point where people are healthy, fed, and employed. This requires access to affordable energy. The wealthiest countries are the cleanest. The poorest countries are destroying the environment, just as the U.S. was doing early in its Industrial Revolution. Wealth generation in the last 100 years, spearheaded by the U.S., has led to longer, healthier lives. Agricultural advances have helped feed the world.
Meanwhile, the decisions of governments, partly based upon bad science and misguided environmentalist pressure in the U.S and EU, is leading to the deaths of millions of people from preventable disease and unclean water, especially in Africa. Malaria still kills millions, despite the fact that DDT is relatively safe, effective, and inexpensive. (We no longer need to soak our crops in it - a small amount sprayed on doorposts twice a year is all that is required.) Land in Africa and elsewhere (e.g. India) is being stripped of natural vegetation as supposedly "renewable resources" are relied upon for daily heating and cooking needs.
So what happens if we begin punishing the production of energy (which is the net effect of the Kyoto Protocol) before technological advances, spurred by free market forces, are allowed to find new energy technologies? I fear that forced economic decline will lead to much greater social and political instability around the world than current terrorist organizations can currently muster. Al Qaeda would become a minor player in a chaotic world where political and social unrest are the norm. But at least we will be content knowing that we forestalled maybe half of a degree Fahrenheit of warming by cutting our greenhouse gas emissions, right? No, I think the Kyoto Protocol, an international wealth-redistribution scheme cloaked in bad science, is the real threat to humanity.
Roy Spencer is a principal research scientist for University of Alabama in Huntsville. In the past, he served as Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. He is also a TCS contributor and last wrote for TCS about the culture of faith.