NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 1, 2007

Without doubt, atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing due primarily to carbon-based energy production (with its undisputed benefits to humanity) and many people ardently believe we must "do something" about its alleged consequence, global warming.  This might seem like a legitimate concern given the potential disasters that are announced almost daily, says John R. Christy, co-recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

How might humans reduce CO2 emissions and their impact on temperatures?

  • California and some Northeastern states have decided to force their residents to buy cars that average 43 miles-per-gallon within the next decade.
  • Even if you applied this law to the entire world, the net effect would reduce projected warming by about 0.05 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, an amount so minuscule as to be undetectable.
  • Global temperatures vary more than that from day to day.

Suppose we were very serious about making a dent in carbon emissions and could replace about 10 percent of the world's energy sources with non-CO2-emitting nuclear power by 2020 -- roughly equivalent to halving U.S. emissions.   Based on projections similar to those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the required 1,000 new nuclear power plants would slow the warming by about 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per century.  It's a dent, says Christy.

But what is the economic and human price, and what is it worth given the scientific uncertainty?  According to Christy, his experience as a missionary teacher in Africa opened his eyes to this simple fact: Without access to energy, life is brutal and short. 

The uncertain impacts of global warming far in the future must be weighed against disasters at our doorsteps today, says Christy.  Bjorn Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus 2004, a cost-benefit analysis of health issues by leading economists (including three Nobelists), calculated that spending on health issues such as micronutrients for children, HIV/AIDS and water purification has benefits 50 to 200 times those of attempting to marginally limit "global warming."

Source: John R. Christy, "My Nobel Moment," Wall Street Journal, November 1, 2007.


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