Live with Climate Change

February 2, 2007 • Commentary
This article appeared in the USA Today on February 2, 2007.

It’s hardly news that human beings have had a hand in the planetary warming that began more than 30 years ago. For nearly a century, scientists have known that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide would eventually result in warming that was most pronounced in winter, especially on winter’s coldest days, and a cooling of the stratosphere. All of these have been observed.

However, actually “doing something” about warming is a daunting endeavor. The journal Geophysical Research Letters estimated in 1997 that if every nation on Earth lived up to the United Nations’ Kyoto Protocol on global warming, it would prevent no more than 0.126 degrees F of warming every 50 years. Global temperature varies by more than that from year to year, so that’s not even enough to measure. Climatically, Kyoto would do nothing.

In the past four years, the Senate has voted twice against “cap‐​and‐​trade” legislation — sponsored by New Mexico senators Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat, and Pete Domenici, a Republican — that would set quotas on carbon emissions and let companies buy and sell them. If adopted, their cap‐​and‐​trade law would reduce emissions by less than the Kyoto Protocol specifies. In other words, the Senate has been loath to even adopt something that does less than nothing.

The stark reality is that if we really want to alter the warming trajectory of the planet significantly, we have to cut emissions by an extremely large amount, and — a truth that everyone must know — we simply do not have the technology to do so. We would fritter away billions in precious investment capital in a futile attempt to curtail warming.

Consequently, the best policy is to live with some modest climate change now and encourage economic development, which will generate the capital necessary for investment in the more efficient technologies of the future.

Fortunately, we have more time than the alarmists suggest. The warming path of the planet falls at the lowest end of today’s U.N. projections. In aggregate, our computer models tell us that once warming is established, it tends to take place at a constant, not an increasing, rate. Reassuringly, the rate has been remarkably constant, at 0.324 degrees F per decade, since warming began around 1975. The notion that we must do “something in 10 years,” repeated by a small but vocal band of extremists, enjoys virtually no support in the truly peer reviewed scientific literature.

Rather than burning our capital now for no environmental gain (did someone say “ethanol?”), let’s encourage economic development so people can invest and profit in our more efficient future.

People who invested in automobile companies that developed hybrid technology have been rewarded handsomely in the past few years, and there’s no reason to think environmental speculators won’t be rewarded in the future, too.

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