Commentary

California Retro

For nearly a century, Californians have fashioned themselves the innovators the United States and the world follow. Not so on global warming. The California Legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger have just passed and signed global warming legislation that looks an awful lot like a watered-down version of the failed Kyoto Protocol. That’s soooo 1990s.

Kyoto was supposed to reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide, the main human-generated global warming gas, to 7% below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. Nationally, carbon dioxide emissions have risen about 18% since then. California legislation cuts state’s emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a much larger effective cut than Kyoto because of expected population growth in the next fifteen years.

Why on earth did they do this, and what will it accomplish?

California’s global warming legislation is all politics. Arnold is up for re-election, and California is (and has always been) politically green. Hint: “Sierra Club” stands for Sierra Nevada Mountain Club. While everyone back east pretty much yawns over its antics, people in California pay attention to it much the same way Euros worship Greenpeace (another organization simply ignored here).

Greens are in record high dudgeon over global warming. Al Gore’s movie has them pumped. The California public is alarmed, and scientists don’t see any incentive to quell the hysteria — after all, it’s quite a living. So it’s totally logical that there has been a political response.

Specifically, the current clamor revolves around a scientific absurdity: that unless we drastically cut our emissions of carbon dioxide in the next nine years, there will be an irreversible climate catastrophe caused by the rapid shedding of Greenland and Antarctic ice. (While climate populists still say “ten years,” they’ve been making this claim for a year now. Time marches on.)

It’s science fiction. The slight loss of Greenland ice in the last few years is hardly unprecedented. Its cause is thought to be a reversal of a fifty-year cooling trend that ended in the late 1990s over the southern (melting) part of the landmass. For several decades in the early 20th century — before humans could be considered a factor in climate change — Greenland was much warmer than it has averaged in the last decade. Look for yourself. The UN’s climate history is at this site.

In the early 20th century, Greenland had to have been shedding ice at a much higher rate than it is today (or, God forbid, today’s loss isn’t being driven by warmer temperatures!), and indeed this is documented. Check out “The Present Climate Fluctuation,” published in 1948 by Hans Ahlmann, in Geographic Journal, a peer-reviewed periodical of the Royal Geographical Society.

Antarctica? Suffice it to say that every recent climate model for the 21st century predicts that it will gain, not lose, ice.

Another big driver of the current hysteria is the notion that hurricanes are getting worse because of global warming. Again, there’s little that’s unprecedented. Today’s frequency of Category 4 and 5 storms, the worst kind, is mathematically indistinguishable in the Atlantic and Western Pacific (the world’s most active hurricane regions) from what it was a half-century ago…right around the time Ahlmann published his paper.

The idea is simple. Warmer water yields more energy for stronger storms. But that notion is simplistic, as other factors that correlate with warmer water serve to mitigate storms.

Further, the oceans just haven’t been cooperating recently. An upcoming paper by John Lyman in Geophysical Research Letters has the scientific cheerleaders for Gore’s apocalypse worried. It shows, inexplicably, that in the last two years the world’s oceans lost 20% of the heat they had gained in the last half century.

It’s easy to say that California’s global warming bill rests on nonsensical overkill. But if people insist that all of these horrible things are being caused by global warming, what will California’s leadership do about it?

The answer, in the rosiest of policy scenarios, is easy: absolutely nothing. Further, if global warming is bad on the whole (a debatable hypothesis), California’s law could easily make things worse.

Let’s be really rosy, and say that California does lead the nation, and Congress passes a similar law. Further, let’s say that California leads the world, and every nation that has to reduce emissions under the Kyoto Protocol — quotas that virtually no one has met — indeed adopts and meets the California mandates. According to scientists from the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, the amount of global warming the law would prevent by 2060 is .05 degrees Celsius. That’s right, one-twentieth of a degree.

That’s a reasonable estimate, because Kyoto is predicted to prevent .07 degrees of warming along this timeframe, and California’s law doesn’t reduce emissions quite as much as Kyoto. But in any case, there’s no network of global thermometers or satellites that will ever be able to detect such a change, because global surface temperature fluctuates about .15 degrees Celsius from year to year.

Will California itself meet its own legally imposed emissions limits? Doubtful, unless there will be some chicanery whereby carbon dioxide is fobbed off on, say, power plants in neighboring states. California would have to reduce its emissions substantially while, thanks to immigration, its population rises rapidly. The entry-level car for entry-level Californians will not be a $30,000 hybrid. While the chi-chi may buy them, they will sell their existing cars to the newcomers. Thanks to California’s climate, those beaters will live long lives in the Golden State.

If people think that current hurricanes are being juiced by global warming, if they think that the calving of Greenland is unprecedented (despite decades of warmer temperatures in the early 20th century), then they will expect some return for their grief. But hurricanes will continue, and more people will be exposed to them. The earth’s temperature trajectory won’t be altered a measurable iota. Despite their efforts to lower emissions, people will see absolutely no current weather change that could possibly be ascribed to this policy.

Basing policies on hysterical exaggerations is a sure recipe for failure, particularly when the policies will do nothing but sour people on carbon dioxide emission restrictions. So much for Californian leadership. Sounds much more like politics as usual: full of sound and fury, accomplishing nothing. How retro.