Global Warming Debunked Again

Commentary by Pete du Pont

October was not a good month for global warming alarmists. On the eve of a conference in Buenos Aires, to iron out further details in and differences over the Kyoto Greenhouse Gas Treaty, proponents of the treaty are watching the science behind their claims of impending environmental disaster crumble. Also, their claims that meeting the terms of the global warming treaty would be practically costless have been exposed as simply wrong.

Environmentalists have argued that the slight surface warming of about 1 degree Fahrenheit that the earth experienced since the mid-1800s must be the result of human activities since natural temperature changes this "substantial" take many thousands of years to occur. But a study published in Science magazine in early October showed that around 12,500 years ago global temperature rose by more than 20 degrees in approximately 50 years. This natural change is more than 10 times the "catastrophic" warming that environmentalists are claiming only humans could be causing -- and it occurred in half the time. So much for the idea that only human activities could account for the present "significant" warming.

Environmentalists have also argued that the United States is the prime culprit behind the substantial rise in greenhouse gases suspected of causing global warming. They argued that since the U.S. is the largest emitter of CO2, the prime greenhouse gas of concern, it has the responsibility to take the lead in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Unfortunately for their argument it turns out that the U.S. rather than being a carbon "polluter," is in fact a leading air filter. According to another article in Science , North America removes more carbon (about 2 billion tons) from the atmosphere than it emits (1.5 billion tons) each year.

Why did the news media miss both of these stories? Could it be because science which shows that Americans are not environmental villains and that present global warming might be a natural occurrence does not make as good a story as when Vice President Al Gore announces that "[pick a month] is the warmest in history -- so we must act now to halt human-caused global warming."

A second blow to proponents of the Kyoto accord came when a study used by the Clinton/Gore administration to claim economic benefits from reducing greenhouse gas emissions was found to be critically flawed. The study produced by five research laboratories at the Department of Energy (DOE) concluded that the economic benefits of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 would roughly equal the costs of the required energy cuts. But analysts noted that more than 20 other studies, including one produced by the DOE itself two months prior to the five-lab study, indicated that merely reaching 1990 levels of emissions would cause massive job losses, steep price increases, and a severe decline in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In late September, a General Accounting Office analysis found the five-labs study (1) relied on unsubstantiated assumptions concerning the future competitiveness of solar power and wind power; (2) did not consider the full costs to the economy of the energy taxes that it suggested; and (3) relied on implausible scenarios concerning the feasibility of near-term replacement of power plants and other capital. In short, all of the study's major assumptions were either unrealistic or overly optimistic.

Finally, in October, worse news for treaty proponents came from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the DOE's official forecasting arm. The EIA found that meeting the Kyoto treaty's greenhouse gas limits would mean a 52 percent increase in U.S. gasoline prices, an 86 percent increase in electricity prices, a 4.2 percent decrease in GDP and a 2.5 percent decline in personal disposable income. The EIA's analysis took into account the prospects for significant renewable energy technology breakthroughs, implementation of a cost-reducing emissions trading scheme favored by the Clinton/Gore administration, and the implications of fiscal policies like a personal income tax rebate to offset the impact of increased energy costs on individuals. Even then the EIA's figures make the previous estimates of the cost of Kyoto look optimistic by comparison.

All of this has been ignored by the global warming apocalyptics. They have been advancing a consistent message: that the federal government should act to prevent global warming even if there is little scientific evidence that it is occurring, or, if it is, that humans are causing it. That the federal government should act to prevent global warming even if the U.S. is not at fault. That the federal government should act to prevent global warming even if it hurts workers and consumers and wrecks the economy.

Never mind that their conclusions are harmful to people; their motives are pure. "So," said the United States in Buenos Aires, "none of this really matters. We are going to sign the treaty anyhow and work out the problems later."

Fortunately, Article II, Section 2 of our Constitution requires treaties to be submitted to the Senate for ratification before they take effect. There, cooler heads -- no pun intended -- will prevail.

The National Center for Policy Analysis is a public policy research institute founded in 1983 and internationally known for its studies on public policy issues.