Reader Responds to Sun-Times Exchange on Global Warming

Published July 6, 2004

The following are Letters to the Editor submitted to the Chicago Sun Times in response to “dueling opeds” written by Adele Simmons (June 23) and Jay Lehr and Joseph Bast (June 28). Lehr is science director and Bast is president of The Heartland Institute.

To the Editor:

Adele Simmons (“A Cool Idea. . ., 6-23-04) has more wrong than right. While few people doubt that the earth is currently experiencing a warming trend, there is still a great deal of debate within the scientific community concerning whether the current warming trend is being caused by humans, and if so, what are the potential impacts and what can we do to avoid or mitigate negative impacts.

Simmons assessment of progress in Europe and in other countries that have signed the Kyoto protocol is misleading. Recent reports have indicated that neither Europe nor Japan will cut their emissions by the amount required by Kyoto. And, even if humans activities are causing climate change, neither the Kyoto protocol nor the McCain-Lieberman bill will do any thing to prevent it. Complying with greenhouse gas reduction limits of either the Kyoto protocol – the treaty Bush rejected – or the bill sponsored by Senator’s John McCain and Joe Lieberman would only prevent a warming of between .07 and 0.19 degrees Celsius. This amount is too small to have an impact on the climate.

This small reduction in temperature, on the other hand, would come at a high price. For instance, an NCPA study by Dr. Stephen Brown of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank determined that complying with Kyoto would reduce U.S. GDP by between 3 percent to 4.3 percent in 2010, representing a loss of $275.2 billion to $394.4 billion, or $921 to $1,320 per person. An Energy Information Agency analysis of the McCain-Lieberman bill is nearly as bleak, estimating a cumulative GDP loss by 2025 of more than $776 billion. For comparison, consider that Congress has appropriated $135 billion to pay for the war in Iraq.

Because CO2 has a relatively long life in the atmosphere and emissions are likely to rise for the next decade or two, if human caused CO2 emissions are the driving force behind climate change, its levels may already be on an irreversible path to unacceptable damage. Accordingly, as the Bush administration has consistently maintained, rather than spending precious time and resources slowing the rise in greenhouse gas emissions – which may or may not mitigate climate change – we should prepare for a warmer world, with all of its variable effects, regardless of the cause.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow
National Center for Policy Analysis
Dallas, Texas

Dear Editor,

Adele Simmons’ “A cool idea to aid fight for clean air” is a nice and well written article, but the point is missed. “The Washington climate debate can no longer afford to be about whether global warming is real, but about how to solve it,” Simmons writes. But, how can you address a threat, if you don’t even know if it is real, what are its causes, and what consequences will possibly follow? The proposed emission cuts would be extremely costly, but the effect on climate change, if any, would be negligible. Resources would be better spent in improving our knowledge of climate dynamics or addressing real environmental problems, the first of all being poverty. Poor people can’t afford a better environment — and ecological feelings are improved as people become richer. Emission cuts would make the wealthy people richer, not the opposite.

Carlo Stagnaro
Istituto Bruno Leoni

Dear Editor,

The recent Commentary articles by Ms. Adele Simmons, who is pro mandatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions, and by Jay Lehr and Joseph Bast, who are skeptics about mandatory controls’ impacts on the Earth’s climate, state well some varying views about the implications of global warming.

Thank you for printing them and let the debate begin AGAIN about whether the computer-projected warming is too much, too little, or about right and whether the computer-projected impacts of the warming are harmful, beneficial, or neutral.

Ms. Simmons asserts among many things that storms, heat waves, and insect-borne diseases show consequences of unchecked global warming; the scientific community and most Americans accept global warming as a problem; polls show 75 percent of Americans favor mandatory greenhouse gas controls; global warming is the gravest danger to the environment; and because we rejected Kyoto and have no mandated solutions of our own, we have compromised our international stature and relationships with important allies.

These polemical statements assume the science is settled by the best minds we have in climatology and atmospheric physics. Many would suggest the science is far from settled by such people. Mr. Lehr and Bast point out the macro economic impacts are not agreed to and range from nothing to significant depending on which analysis you favor.

Some informed observers believe even if we accepted the consensus Kyoto protocol, much less the watered down McCain/Lieberman bill mentioned in both articles, very little if any reduction in airborne carbon dioxide would occur this century.

I agree with Lehr and Bast. The costs can be enormous. The benefits appear speculative at best.

Jim Van Pelt
Winnetka, IL