Commentary

Jeffords’ Green Agenda

When Senate Majority Leader-to-be Tom Daschle asked Jim Jeffords what he wanted in return for switching political sides, the junior senator from the Green Mountain State asked to be chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

That’s the only take-home prize Jeffords gets for his defection, so it must be important. And telling.

One can imagine, after this promise, what happened at Jeffords’ meeting with Messrs. Bush and Cheney: “OK, Senator, what does it take to keep you with us?”

Jeffords: “Change your position on the Kyoto Protocol.”

Cheney: “Hit the road, Jim.”

The truth is that Kyoto and global warming will be the focus of Jeffords’ Environment Committee. Expect him to parade witness after witness, on the hottest summer days, decrying Bush & Co. for being “out of touch” with the world on this issue. Robert Watson, head of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which bills itself as the “consensus of scientists,” is sure to get top billing.

When he appears, Watson will trot out the U.N.’s new “Third Assessment Report” on climate change, a compendium of more than 1,000 pages that’s due to hit the streets in a couple of months. With this report, Jeffords will show us how loony the current Administration is about planetary heating.

Unlike the U.N.’s first and second Assessments, published in 1990 and 1996, this one purports to tell world leaders what to do about climate change. Here’s what the “consensus of scientists” prescribes (it can be found on page 12 of the “Policymakers Summary” of the new report):

“emissions/carbon/energy taxes, tradable or non-tradable permits [indirect taxes], subsidies [which require taxes], deposit/refund systems [taxes and regulations], technology or performance standards [regulations by fiat], product bans [let’s outlaw coal!], voluntary agreements [ha!], government spending and investment [taxes], and support for research and development [paid for by taxes].”

Who is “out of touch” here? Each of these general policy prescriptions requires confiscation of individual wealth to cool the planet or adapt to warming. Apparently, the “consensus of scientists” is that people and markets are too stupid to do this on their own. Did it ever occur to the United Nations that if global warming is as terrible and costly as it thinks it is, there will be a substantial market for technologies and products that would reduce that cost? The U.N. thinks we would rather sit around and fry, unless we are taxed into mending our evil ways.

In fact, there’s good scientific evidence that we adapt well to hot days. Some of today’s most in-demand technology, in fact, is designed to prevent death from heat stroke, an affliction that was more common decades ago. The technology is called “air conditioning.”

Are we quietly adapting or passively frying? My University of Virginia colleague Robert Davis and I recently looked at heat-related mortality data from major American cities for the last 40 years. At first, we found what everyone seems to know: In some cities, mainly older ones, daily death rates skyrocket on exceedingly hot days. Therefore, the United Nations tells us, if we heat things up more, “several thousand” more people will die every summer in North America because of global warming. The truth is that cities have been heating up by themselves, without global warming, for hundreds of years, compromising our ability to measure the earth’s true temperature.

But when we looked at the trends in heat-related deaths, we found that in most cities, the deaths occurred early on—in the 1960s and 1970s. By the time we get to the 1990s, we have engineered heat-related deaths out of most cities, with electrically driven air conditioning. In fact, the last big urban die-off, in Chicago in July 1995, occurred largely because there was a power failure. Our results have been presented at several peer-screened professional conferences and written up many times, all to favorable review.

We don’t expect Jeffords to invite us before his Committee, because we’re “out of touch,” too. Our results show that free markets, not taxation, create the capital that people use to invest in technologies that shield them from the vagaries of our naturally hostile environment. And there’s the problem: When it comes to the environment, Jeffords, the Kyoto Protocol, and the United Nations believe more in taxation and coercion than they do in free markets and free will.

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies.