Policy Documents

Global Warming Madness and How to Stop It

Joseph Bast –
February 1, 2007

The temperature on New Year’s Day in Chicago was a balmy 50 degrees F. More evidence of global warming? Hardly.

The five New Year’s Days with the highest temperatures occurred in 1876, 1897, 1892, 1890, and 1891, all long before human greenhouse gas emissions could have played a role in changing climate. The one thing we know for sure about the weather is that it is always changing.

But the warm weather will fuel more hot rhetoric about global warming, a public policy issue that could have a major effect on our freedoms and our pocketbooks in the coming years.

Why it Matters

Global warming is the biggest environmental issue of our time. Its political and economic impacts will be larger than those associated with any other environmental issue.

Government power: Public policies being proposed at the international, national, and state levels in the name of “stopping global warming” would result in a massive increase in the size and power of the state. To reduce emissions, governments must raise energy costs directly, with taxes, or indirectly, with mandates and subsidies.

Either way, hundreds of billions of dollars a year in wealth or economic activity will be sucked up and redistributed by governments. For advocates of limited government, the debate over global warming is one of the preeminent issues of our time.

Economic harm: Energy is the “master resource,” used in the creation of nearly all other goods and services. Making energy artificially scarce therefore imposes enormous economic costs. Global warming legislation being considered by Congress would more than cancel out the beneficial effects of the Bush tax cuts.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions even modestly is estimated to cost the average household in the U.S. a cool $3,372 per year and would destroy 2.4 million jobs. Electricity prices would double, and manufacturers would move their factories to places such as China and India that have cheaper energy and fewer environmental regulations.

Social movements: In 2004, the leftist leaders of the environmental movement decided to make global warming the “global crisis” that would save their reputations, create an excuse for a full assault on businesses and capitalism, increase their influence over the Democrat Party, and fund their organizations in perpetuity. The movement’s leaders recognize that losing on this issue would further discredit a movement that has already squandered the public good will earned during the 1960s and 1970s.

On this aspect of the global warming debate, the leading environmentalists are correct. If they win this issue, billions of dollars in government funds will flow into the coffers of radical environmental groups, giving them the resources and stature to implement other parts of their anti-technology, anti-business agenda.

Can We Win?

Fighting global warming extremism is essential if we are to stop a resurgence of radical environmentalism and left liberalism on a wide range of other public policy issues. But can we win? Yes.

The scientific community is on our side: Despite claims of a “consensus” in favor of alarmist predictions, surveys of scientists show extensive opposition to alarmism. A 2003 international survey of climate scientists (with 530 responding) found only 9.6 percent “strongly agreed” and 25.3 percent “agreed” with the statement “climate change is mostly the result of anthropogenic causes.”

A 2006 survey of scientists in the U.S. found 41 percent disagreed that the planet’s recent warmth “can be, in large part, attributed to human activity,” and 71 percent disagreed that recent hurricane activity is significantly attributable to human activity.

A recent review of 1,117 abstracts of scientific journal articles on “global climate change” found only 13 (1 percent) explicitly endorse the “consensus view” while 34 reject or cast doubt on the view that human activity has been the main driver of warming over the past 50 years.

The public is open to persuasion: Despite the left’s massive investment in “ending the debate,” opinion polls show the public is deeply divided on the issue. According to a 2006 poll, about 70 percent of Americans believe global warming is occurring, but fewer than half (41 percent) believe human activities are responsible.

“While 41% say global warming is a very serious problem, 33% see it as somewhat serious and roughly a quarter (24%) think it is either not too serious or not a problem at all. Consequently, the issue ranks as a relatively low public priority, well behind education, the economy, and the war in Iraq.”

The political battle is an open field: Only 58 percent of Republican voters believe global warming is occurring and only 24 percent believe human activities are responsible, making this a safe issue for Republicans to address. Republicans in Congress in the past have voted strongly against legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, including against McCain-Lieberman proposals that come up considerably short of the goals set by the Kyoto Protocol.

Political opposition to global warming legislation is especially strong in the South and West, where coal and oil are major economic resources and sources of employment (though not in California, Oregon, and Washington). It will also grow stronger in the Midwest and Northeast when manufacturers and unions realize the real agenda of the global warming alarmists is to put them out of business by raising energy costs.

The left doesn’t have a solution: The left’s own computer simulations show that global emission reductions of 60 to 80 percent would be required to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Even greater reductions would be required of the U.S. and other developed countries to make up for rising emissions from Third World countries. The technology simply does not exist to achieve those reductions. Their plans are therefore “all pain and no gain.”

Politics and Global Warming

Unfortunately, global warming is an issue that is well suited to political demagoguery, which can be defined as pandering to misinformed voters and promising unrealistic solutions. Since opinion polls indicate a majority of the public believes warming is happening, politicians might think the safe strategy is to say “I believe global warming is a serious problem and I support measures to reduce global warming pollution by supporting renewable fuels and energy efficiency.”

Such politicians should be “outed” for claiming to be smarter than scientists who have studied climate for many years and for using scare tactics to win elections. For example, an opponent might say:

 

  • “I’m not a scientist, but I do know there’s still a lot of debate going on in the scientific community about whether the recent warming spell is natural or man-made, and whether or not it will continue. How can Senator Smith be so sure he’s got the whole truth?”

 

 

  • “I’m old enough to remember when we were setting records for cold weather in the 1970s and scientists were predicting Global Cooling. I’m glad Senator Smith wasn’t around back then, or we’d be paying for government programs to make the world warmer, not cooler.”

 

Politicians who set lofty goals for emission reductions or increased use of renewable fuels with compliance set five years, 10 years, or even 20 years in the future should be “outed” for promising more than they can deliver and hiding from voters the real costs and consequences of their votes. For example, an opponent could say:

 

  • “Senator Smith talks about reducing emissions of greenhouse gases by 20 percent, 30 percent, or more, but he doesn’t tell us these cuts would cost the average American household $3,372 a year and destroy 2.4 million jobs. He’s pretending his ‘solution’ would be free and easy. It won’t be either.”

 

 

  • “Senator Smith talks about how much lower emissions will be in 2012, 2020, and even 2050, but he must know this Congress cannot commit future Congresses to carrying out its will. Two years, four years, and six years from now, Congresses will be voting on whether or not to reduce emissions and at what costs. Senator Smith can’t predict their decisions, and he can’t claim credit for what they might decide to do.”

 

Conclusion

Global warming isn’t just a scientific issue. Economists are more likely than meteorologists to know what future emission levels will be, and they say the computer models used to predict future warming use flawed data, resulting in “garbage in, garbage out.”

Global warming is also a political issue. Each of us, as citizens and voters, must decide how much power to surrender to governments and environmental advocacy groups in exchange for vague promises of reducing a small and hypothetical risk that wouldn’t emerge until a century from now.

It’s our freedom and money that hang in the balance. It should be our choice.


Joseph Bast (jbast@heartland.org) is president of The Heartland Institute.