CO2 as proxy

Published May 1, 2000

When Tim Wirth was a U.S. Senator from Colorado in the late 1980s, he identified with the environmental vision of apocalyptic global warming. While recognizing the scientific problems associated with that vision, he nonetheless commented that he didn’t care whether the theory was right or wrong, that he would ride the issue for all it is worth, seeing it as a vehicle for accomplishing other policy goals near and dear to the environmental community. He was prophetic.

President Clinton recently submitted to Congress his FY2001 Climate Change Budget. He asked for various items: $201 million for an International Clean Energy Initiative, $289 million for a Bio-energy and Bio-products Initiative, another $85 million for a Clean Air Partnership Fund. The Administration wants $4 billion in tax incentives spread over five years for energy-efficient homes, fuel-efficient cars, and renewable energy sources.

They seek an additional $1.4 billion to research, develop, and deploy clean technologies for buildings, transportation, industry, and electricity generation; another $255 million for a new generation of vehicles; $275 million for advanced technology in housing; $410 million for renewable energy; and $233 million to develop the next-generation technologies for coal combustion. Weatherization and state energy grants are down for $191 million. Scientific research to improve our understanding of the human and natural forces that influence the Earth’s climate system and to assess the likely consequences of global warming is earmarked for $1.7 billion.

The premise for all of this spending is that there is “a growing scientific consensus that the Earth is warming–and that human activities are at least partly to blame.” Implicit in the statement is the notion that if the Earth is warming and humans cause the warming, then it is a bad thing and must be avoided.

Climate science today shows the vision of apocalyptic global warming to be flawed, but the climate change horse moves forward anyway, just as former Senator Wirth urged.

As readers of Environment & Climate News know, Greening Earth Society disagrees with the Clinton Administration’s premise. And, over the next several months, it will become increasingly clear why we disagree. But, given that we do disagree, does that mean opposition to the Clinton Administration’s Climate Change Budget? No.

Personally, not only am I not against it, I am for it. I recognize that many conservatives believe that anything that grows the federal government in domestic matters is suspect. I know there are many who believe in good faith that we should completely rely on market forces for our energy future and minimize federal government involvement in energy. In this instance, I would proceed anyway since the policy is an outlet for those concerned about climate change and may result in important benefits as well.

Abraham Lincoln was a true conservative. His life, in the context of the times in which he lived, the speeches he gave, and the thoughts he committed to paper, reveals a belief in our founding principles and in the worth of the individual. Yet he was a proponent of strong central government and used the power of that government in our great Civil War to turn back the Slave Power.

FDR also believed in the federal government, as did Ronald Reagan. Each of these three great Presidents (our three greatest, in my view) used the powers of the federal government to achieve great good. In Lincoln’s case, to create the Union as it exists today and end slavery; in Roosevelt’s, to lead the defeat of fascism and establish the social safety net; and in Reagan’s, deregulation of our economy and defeat of Soviet Communism.

Like it or not, the federal government is going to be involved in the energy business. In that context, a conservative can support the Clinton Climate Change Budget. But, in doing so, you need not (in fact, must not) “buy into” the Clinton-Gore vision of apocalyptic global warming.

I believe that anything that adds energy capacity for our economy is worthwhile, since the economy needs more energy with each passing day. I also believe we need to understand better human impacts on climate and the environment. At the same time, I most certainly do not believe that there is any realistic risk of catastrophic global warming.

Admittedly, there are reasonable people who believe there is such risk. That does not mean they hold a reasonable belief, however. For the belief to be reasonable it must be based on observed fact to buttress hypothesis. It is the lack of observations and the presence of inconsistent observations that caused the vision of the apocalypse to fail. However, it is not unreasonable to accept federal involvement in energy, research of renewable energy sources, and making cleaner our air and water while resisting the impulse of the current government to tax, cap, and limit CO2 emissions.

Fredrick D. Palmer is president of the Greening Earth Society.