Commentary

The Silly Season

On June 27, Vice President Gore unveiled his plan to fight global warming and to protect, in his words, “the stable seasons God gave us.”

These gifts include “Hurricane Season,” which officially began on June 1, “Tornado Season,” which runs from January through December, and winter, which anyone with a few dollars tries desperately to escape.

In order to preserve these seasons, Gore recommends several policy proposals that deserve scrutiny. They include:

Solar energy. Currently, solar electricity costs about five times as much as conventional power. This is largely because the surface of the earth generally doesn’t receive enough energy to power much of anything consequential. As an example, at current conversion rates, the area of solar panels required to power an efficient air conditioner for an average two-story home would be larger than the home itself.

“Hybrid” gas-electric cars. As correctly noted in several news reports, Honda has been “selling” these since January. You probably haven’t seen one, though, because no one’s buying. It’s a two-seater that, when all the physics is said and done, gets about the same highway mileage as the conventional Civic CRX FE of 12 years ago. It does better in the city because the engine stops dead when it’s not moving. So much for running the air conditioner in Washington, where traffic is always stopped, during summer. Ditto for defrosting the windshield in Minnesota as the blizzards howl in another of God’s “stable seasons” (and where people not dressed like the Michelin Tire-Person can meet the Maker of Seasons in less than a night).

Central economic planning. According to his June 27 press release, “Al Gore supports tax credits to help make electricity products produced from wind, biomass, and landfill methane … price competitive with other forms of electricity.” If the government were such a good investor, everybody on Social Security would own a beach house!

Let’s see how much dreaded global warming these proposals will save, since their real purpose is to meet the guidelines of the Kyoto Protocol, an infamous U.N. document for which Gore is largely responsible. According to the computer model from the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, if the entire world reduced its greenhouse emissions by roughly 5 percent — the integrated goal of the Protocol — the earth’s mean temperature would be 0.07 degrees Celsius lower in 2050 (and 0.14 C by 2100) than if we just continued “business as usual.”

But the United States currently contributes only about 25 percent of total emissions. So our contribution to the “saved” warming is only 0.02 C by 2050. Of course, by 2050 our actual fraction drops even further as the rest of the world develops, emitting relatively more greenhouse gases. Under the best scenario, all we get from Gore’s program is about 1/100 of a degree.

Would this affect the “stable seasons”? Consider: The average temperature variability — from year-to-year — is about 1 C. That’s 100 times the temperature “saving” resulting from Gore’s plan. A garden-variety “hurricane season” produces 10 named storms, plus or minus three. Could 1/100 of a degree of temperature produce any detectable change in a number already ranging between 7 and 13? And how about tornadoes? In a bad year, 400 Americans die; in a good one, maybe 40. Will changing the mean temperature of the earth from 15.00 C to 14.99 C alter this range? The answers are as obvious as the rhetoric is inflated.

Along similar lines, Gore vowed to “make our nation the world’s leader in manufacturing a new generation of clean cars, trucks, buses, and sport utility vehicles,” “building a diversified energy infrastructure,” creating “light-rail, high-speed rail, and mag-lev” trains, and upgrading the nation’s public bus system (a big issue with voters for sure).

The fact is, people like their SUVs just fine, thank you, and the 10-year payment plan isn’t about to make them trade in anytime soon. As far as trains go, when is the last time you rode one instead of an airplane? Have you taken the bus to Chicago recently?

There’s more: “Al Gore will expand investment in the Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) and the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) and target these increases to provide businesses with incentives to develop new energy-efficient and environmental technologies and put these new technologies in the marketplace.”

I’m still trying to figure out what this last one means. But one thing for certain is that it is an indication of the hot air of Campaign 2000, another God-given season.

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at Cato Institute.