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Global warming is a complicated question. Is it our responsibility
as citizens to form an opinion on it, or should we just leave it to the
On questions of policy involving science or technology, it is
particularly important that we resist the temptation to forsake our
civic responsibility because of excessive trust in the capacity of
“experts” to make decisions for us. We are not all scientists, but, we
are still citizens of this republic. As such, we are obliged to
exercise our judgment on science-based issues, especially when the
experts disagree or when the issues have clear implications for the
community as a whole. There are few purely “scientific” public policy
questions because public policy questions by definition cannot be
considered adequately in the light of scientific criteria alone. Our
decisions about technology must always be kept in right relation to the
economic, political and moral principles that alone can ensure that
technology continues to serve the true good of the men who create it.
The left is adept at attempting to justify proposals for the
wholesale restructuring of society by insisting that such proposals are
just “what the doctor ordered.” Environmental policy is particularly
fertile soil for this deployment of supposed scientific expertise in the
service of what Thomas Sowell calls “cosmic visions” — fuzzily thought
out but massively disruptive recipes for social change. But, while the
doctor never really “orders” us to take our medicine, liberals do.
That’s why a citizenry that intends to preserve its liberty should pay
close attention when elites begin telling us that supposed verdicts of
science will require that we change important aspects of our lives.
One area where liberals are clearly using the authority of science to
try to force us to take the medicine of social reorganization is “global
warming.” Accordingly, we should take great care to distinguish
legitimate from illegitimate science on this topic and judge any verdict
of the “scientists” by the criteria of common sense and political
principle. The following is my own thinking on the matter.
I share the conviction of many that the earth is the Lord’s and that
we as God’s stewards must care for its well being. However, translating
this weighty obligation into good public policy is no simple task. We
should avoid the temptation of assuming, without further ado, that if it
is our duty to care about something, we must necessarily put that
something under government control.
It is our duty to care about the poor; I do not believe that means
that we should become socialists. It is our duty to care about the
souls of our fellow men; I do not believe that means we should put the
state in charge of religion. The conventional wisdom in environmental
matters is that more government is always better. Yet recent bitter
experience suggests otherwise. Russia and Eastern Europe suffer from
some of the world’s worst ecological disasters, precisely because the
former Soviet system suppressed markets and property rights. Under
communism, factory managers had no incentives to conserve resources and
ordinary people had no legal standing to bring polluters to justice.
On the specific issue of global warming, I am impressed by a variety
of empirical evidence that suggests we have little or nothing to fear.
The earth seems to have warmed about 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the
past century. However, that is only half the amount projected by the
climate models underpinning the Kyoto Protocol. Moreover, much of that
modest warming occurred prior to 1940, whereas 80 percent of the buildup
of atmospheric carbon dioxide occurred after 1940. This suggests that
much of this century’s slight warming may be due to natural factors such
as fluctuations in the output of solar energy. More important, in the
troposphere, the critical atmospheric “weather zone” where the models
predict the strongest “warming signal,” highly accurate satellite and
weather balloon measurements show almost no net warming over the past 20
years. From such facts, I conclude that the climate system is probably
much less “sensitive” to “greenhouse forcing” than the climate models
In contrast to the unverified projections of the climate models,
literally hundreds of laboratory and field experiments demonstrate that
virtually all food crops, trees, and plants raised in CO2-enriched
environments grow faster, stronger, and more profusely with greater
resistance to both temperature and pollution stress. One leading expert
on plant biology believes that about 10 percent of the increase in world
agricultural productivity over the past five decades should be
attributed to the increase in atmospheric concentrations of CO2.
As we know, all animal life depends, directly or indirectly, on plant
life. For those who view the course of human events within a religious
framework, it is not unreasonable to speculate that mankind, as if led
by an invisible hand, has been engaged in a vast recycling project.
Through our utilization of fossil fuels, we are taking the carbon
dioxide plants removed from the air millions of years ago and putting it
back into the atmosphere where it can once again be converted for the
benefit of living things. In any event, I believe the balance of
evidence suggests that man-made CO2 is not destabilizing the climate
system but, rather, enhancing global food security and bio-diversity.
Even if global warming turns out to be a real problem, the Kyoto
Protocol would be the wrong solution. Barring far more serious
disasters — like major military conflicts involving nuclear, chemical,
or biological weapons, mankind in 2050 or 2100 will enjoy far greater
wealth and technological prowess than we do today. Posterity will be
much better equipped than we are to mitigate, or adapt to, climate
change, whether natural or human-induced.
However, posterity will not achieve the full resilience and security
of superior wealth and technology if we sabotage economic growth through
the imposition of costly regulatory schemes like the Kyoto Protocol.
Bear in mind that Kyoto advocates view the Protocol as just a beginning
— the first of a series of energy-suppression treaties, each mandating
stricter controls and encompassing more countries than its predecessor.
A question I hope all will ponder is whether the Kyoto agenda is
compatible with the welfare of developing countries. Typhoons kill more
people in Bangladesh than hurricanes do in Florida, not because typhoons
are deadlier than hurricanes, but because the people of Bangladesh are
among the world’s poorest. Poverty always has been, and remains, the
most lethal social pollutant. To a great degree, poverty is a function
of limited energy supply. Indeed, there is an amazing correlation
worldwide between per capita income and per capita electricity
For most people in most countries, fossil fuels provide the most
abundant and affordable actual and potential source of electricity.
That is why the prestigious International Energy Agency projects that 90
percent of all new energy demand worldwide over the next 20 years will
be supplied by fossil fuels. The Kyoto Protocol is at loggerheads with
one of the broadest and deepest trends of the global marketplace. This
should tell us that the Protocol and its successor treaties could not be
implemented without harming the poor. I fear that a Kyoto
energy-starved world would be a world with more starving people.
I suspect behind the Kyoto Protocol is the age-old lust for power.
Carbon dioxide is not only the fundamental nutrient of the planetary
food chain, it is also the most ubiquitous byproduct of modern
civilization. Manufacturing, electric power generation, farming,
aircraft, and automobiles — all are major sources of carbon dioxide
emissions. To successfully control carbon dioxide emissions, government
must regulate practically everything. The Kyoto Protocol would
establish such regulation on a global scale.
Consider also that the climate forecasts fueling the Kyoto enterprise
are all based, explicitly or otherwise, on long-term technological
forecasts. That is, to know how human activity will change the climate
over the next century, one must also know what kinds of energy
technologies will be prevalent 50 to 100 years hence. Many of the same
individuals and organizations who only 20 years ago were confidently
predicting oil depletion and chronic energy shortages by the year 2000
are now confidently predicting what will happen to the climate in 50 or
100 years. This is hubris of a very high order.
The Kyoto Protocol is, thus, a scheme of global central planning
based on claims of greater-than-human foresight and knowledge. Does it
not bear a strong resemblance to the Tower of Babel?