The Global Warming Panic

Commentary by Pete du Pont

Speaking at the United Nations on June 26th, President Clinton said "...we have to first convince the American people and the Congress that the climate change problem is real and imminent." Failure to do so, he suggested, could produce "50 million or more cases of malaria," cause "the seas to rise two feet or more," cause urban heat waves, and cause the Maldive Islands to disappear.

Not a very convincing beginning to converting us, but then again, what did the President have to work with?

There is not a consensus among scientists that a human-caused change in the global climate is even occurring.

Second, even if human activity were causing temperatures to rise, any international treaty wouldn't stop it.

Given those considerations, maybe some more thought should go into this before we commit America to a treaty that will lower the standard of living for almost everybody in the world.

A host of global warming proposals are being considered, but all the proposals would put mandatory caps on the amount of greenhouse gases that developed nations -- but not developing nations, China for instance -- could put in the air.

You may have read about a purported consensus among scientists that current evidence suggests human activity is contributing to dramatically rising temperatures. Well, not exactly. The story about 2,400 scientists endorsing the idea failed to mention that these were mostly people like biologists, medical researchers and the like. That's somewhat like having 2,400 computer programmers evaluate the future demand for Nintendo games.

On the other hand, climatologists and meteorologists, the scientific experts who deal directly with climate conditions, reject the theory by a wide margin. A Gallup survey showed that only 17 percent of the members of the Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Society think that the warming of the 20th century was a result of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

A survey conducted by the environmental organization Greenpeace found that only 13 percent of the scientists responding believe that catastrophic climate change will result from continuing current patterns of energy use. Indeed, more than 100 noted scientists, including the former president of the National Academy of Sciences, signed a letter declaring that costly actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were not justified by the best available evidence.

That there is no consensus isn't surprising since the evidence supporting the theory is weak. Ground-level measurements of temperature indicate that Earth has warmed between 0.3 and 0.6 degrees Celsius since 1850. Although atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) has increased by approximately 25 percent in the last 150 years, that could only have played a minor in the slight increase in average temperature, since most of this warming occurred before 1940 -- preceding the vast majority of human-caused CO2 emissions. And data from global satellites and weather balloons show no warming over the last 18 years.

Given the weak evidence, advocates of stiff caps on greenhouse gas emissions argue that the potential consequences of global warming are so terrible that countries should take precautions to prevent climate change anyway -- the so called precautionary principle.

So what happens if we sign a treaty forcing reduced emissions in developed countries? Not much to the temperature, but a lot to living standards.

The level of greenhouse gases would continue to rise because developing countries would not be bound, thanks to an earlier agreement signed in Berlin. According to the International Energy Agency, as much as 85 percent of the projected increase in carbon dioxide emissions would come from countries that are exempted. By 2025, China alone will emit more carbon dioxide than the United States, Japan and Canada combined.

Twenty-four studies on the economic effects have been conducted, and here the conclusion is unanimous: mandatory caps mean economic disaster. For instance, a DRI/McGraw-Hill study projects that over the next 14 years more than 500,000 Americans annually would lose their jobs, and the government would have to increase gasoline prices by more than 60 cents a gallon and double the price of heating oil just to hold carbon emissions at 1990 levels. Those increases would have to double to reduce emissions another 10 percent, as some of the proposals provide.

A study of 80 nations by Charles River Associates concluded that holding greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels would devastate developed nations and have adverse effects on all others in the short-term. However, some countries that had not participated in the treaty would see long-term benefits as industries relocated to their shores to escape the caps.

The call to reject internationally binding emissions caps is not a partisan issue. Organized labor, industry, consumers groups, Democrats and Republicans alike have all called for the Clinton administration to slow down.

If, as columnist George Will noted, socialism is the subjugation of the market to politics, this is global socialism. Some nations' economies may grow, others may not, and the politicians will decide which is which.

The whole thing is a bad idea, poorly conceived, and based on unconvincing data. It ought to be stopped before it does real damage.