The Global Warming Scare Is Over

Published July 19, 2008

For many years I was an active member of the Sierra Club, and even an editor of Lake and Prairie, the newsletter of the Illinois chapter. I ended my membership only reluctantly after its leaders decided politics, not private voluntary action, was the best way to protect the environment.

Since then, I’ve watched the Sierra Club and many other environmental activist groups focus much of their time and members’ dues on global warming, the supposed “mother of all environmental problems.” What a terrible mistake they made.

For 20 years, instead of helping to protect wildlife habitat and create outdoor recreation opportunities, environmental groups have spent most of their time and money calling for draconian reductions in “greenhouse gas emissions.” What have they got to show for their efforts?

They suffered a humiliating defeat in the U.S. Senate in June. Their bill, called Lieberman-Warner, couldn’t even marshal enough votes to reach the Senate floor.

Were the Senators who voted against it out of touch with voters? It’s not likely, since politicians keep pretty close tabs on this sort of thing. According to the Pew Research Center, fewer than half (41 percent) of Americans over the age of 18 believe human activity is causing global warming, and the same minority (41 percent) believe it is a serious problem.

Gallup’s 2008 Environment Survey found only about a third (37 percent) of respondents said they worry “a great deal” about global warming, down 4 percentage points from 2007 survey results, the second largest drop for the 12 environmental issues addressed by the poll. Global warming ranked a lowly ninth among the 12 environmental concerns in the survey.

It’s remarkable that public concern for global warming is falling at a time when press coverage of the most alarmist scenarios of floods, droughts, extinction of species, etc. is at saturation levels. You can’t read a newspaper or watch television without seeing claims that global warming is causing this or that environmental calamity.

Did people somehow miss Al Gore’s Academy Award and Nobel Peace Prize? Or are they onto something?

Backers of the Lieberman-Warner legislation blame high gasoline prices for their defeat, but that wasn’t the real reason Senators voted against the bill. They rejected it because economists warned it would have destroyed millions of jobs and impoverished millions of families. It would have taken billions of dollars a year from middle-income consumers and workers and given it to politicians and con artists.

The Senators may also have been listening to scientists who say reducing greenhouse gas emissions is unnecessary. A few weeks ago, a petition signed by 31,000 American scientists, including more than 9,000 with Ph.D. degrees, declared, “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.”

Global warming alarmism seems to have peaked sometime in 2007 and is now in sharp decline, much as other environmental fads have come and gone over the years. In March The Heartland Institute hosted an international conference on climate change in New York City for “global warming skeptics.” We expected about 300 people, but ended up with more than 500, including hundreds of highly regarded scientists from respected universities and government research institutes. The times, they are a-changing.

So Joe Lunchbucket is right: Global warming is not a crisis. That leaves only one group who still thinks it is: environmental activists.

Wouldn’t we all be better off if they went back to the important business of protecting wildlife?

Joseph Bast ([email protected]) is president of The Heartland Institute and author of several books and studies about environmental protection.