Political Science not Climate Science is Driving Climate Change Alarmists

Commentary by H. Sterling Burnett

The effects of high fuel prices on the poor and those on fixed incomes is devastating. In Europe people are rioting to protest the high costs of fuel and in America there are reports of people who fear they will soon have to choose between paying their energy bills or buying food and medicine. If environmental alarmists have their way, this is a preview of things to come.

In the face of mounting scientific uncertainty concerning what role, if any, humans have played in earth's current warming, environmentalists continue to insist that the United States implement the Kyoto Accord on global warming which would require substantial cuts in energy use at great cost to the economy. To add insult to injury, a disproportionate share of these costs will be borne by the least fortunate or most vulnerable among us - the elderly, the poor and minorities.

Economists have concluded that the costs of cutting greenhouse gases in the U.S. would be considerable. For instance, a National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) study by Dr. Stephen Brown, of the Federal Reserve Bank of Texas, found that under a best case scenario reducing CO2 emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels - as required under the Kyoto Accord signed by the Clinton Administration - would cost American families between $3,684 and $6,400 per year for a family of four.

These cost fall most heavily upon the poor and minorities. The poorest 20 percent of U.S. households spend almost 9 percent of their income on energy compared to 6.9 percent for average Americans. In addition, Refusing to Repeat Past Mistakes a recent study sponsored by various minority groups including the National Black Chamber of Commerce and the U. S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, estimated that implementing the Kyoto Accord would cost up to 3.2 million jobs with approximately half of these jobs lost by Hispanic and African-American workers.

Is the scientific evidence of global warming so compelling that action to prevent it is justified even in the face of these costs? Hardly! Indeed, as climate science improves it is clear how little we understand the causes and consequences of climate change.

The July 28 Science, reported that researchers discovered a previously unknown greenhouse gas that traps heat more effectively than any previously recognized greenhouse gas - pound for pound it absorbs 18,000 times more infrared radiation than CO2. Scientists have yet to identify the source of this gas - they assume its source is human activities - and it has not been accounted for in the models used to simulate present, past and future climate.

In another recent report, NASA's Dr. James Hansen argued that urban air pollutants and greenhouse gases other than CO2 are the main sources of human-caused warming. This is the same Dr. Hansen who brought the term "global warming" to the general public's attention for the first time in 1988 Senate testimony. Until this report, Hansen for nearly twenty years had maintained that CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use was the primary cause of global warming. While these findings highlight the limitations of our knowledge of concerning the climate system, other research raise doubts about the human role in climate cycles.

In an August 31, 2000 NCPA report, Dr. David Demming of the University of Oklahoma points out that the most comprehensive studies of ancient temperatures show that for more than 7,500 of the past 10,000 years the earth's average temperature was higher than at present. Indeed, borehole measurements indicate that the earth was as much as 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer for 5,000 of those years. And the September 24th, Times of London reported that scientists at the European Space Agency, using satellite and other astronomical data, have shown that the computer models used to predict global warming have severely underestimated the sun's impact on current warming. The sun has experienced a large energy surge this century with a correspondingly large increase in ultraviolet light. In addition, there has been a doubling in the sun's magnetic field. Neither of these climate warming factors have been accurately modeled previously by climate scientists. If this research proves correct, then reducing energy use in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions will have no effect on future warming.

More than 2000 years ago, Socrates argued that the sign of true wisdom was admitting how little one knows - in other words the more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn. By this standard, in light of the significant uncertainty surrounding the causes of the earth's current warming and humankind's ability to affect it coupled with the clear harm that ill-conceived policies to prevent warming will cause, global warming alarmists must either be among the least wise or most callous people on earth.