A convenient untruth
I still haven't changed my mind. I don't doubt that some significant global warming has been occurring. Yet there is an important distinction between global warming as a consequence of the earth's internal homeostatic system and anthropogenic global warming, the consequence of human behavior such as the burning of fossile fuels.
In a New York Times op-ed today Gregg Easterbrook, one of the more sensible environmentalists, cites six official bodies, from the American Geophysical Union to the Climate Change Science Program, who say that global warming is now a certainty. Then Mr. Easterbrook says: "Case closed."
I'm sorry, but it isn't. Of the six authoritative bodies, three seem simply to say that global warming is happening, without seeking definitively to assess the cause. The other three cite anthrogenic factors, but use such language as "a substantial human impact" and "human influences on the climate system."
From these opinions two questions arise. In all likelihood global warming stems from two main factors: the earth itself and human activity on the earth. What percentages are to be assigned to each? Even an expression like "substantial human impact" sugggests that the effect might be no more than 40%. Perhaps it is as low as 20%.
The second question is this. How much can we reduce the human contribution to the effect? Unless we go back to a Neolithic economy, advocates concede that even advanced industrialized countries can only reduce their output of fossile fuels by a fraction of the total. In the meantime, newly industrializing countries, primarly China and India, are increasing their contribution to pollution enormously. The savings made up in advanced industrialized countries will more than be made up new transgressions elsewhere. So why must we pay the price, while India and China merrily pollute as much as they want?
Mr. Easterbrook now admits that "President Bush was right to withdraw the United States from the cumbersome Kyoto greenhouse treaty, which even most signatories are ignoring." Wasn't the Kyoto Treaty one of the main accomplishments of Al Gore?
The brings us to the final question--the cui bono. If the evidence about global warming is ambiguous, and I think it is, who benefits from trumpeting the cause? In an obvious trivial sense Al Gore does, because the movie will advance his newly revived presidential ambitions. More generally, the global-warming frenzy has been a bonanza for the media. You don't sell newspapers by saying that the evidence is moot. A more direct economic benefit will accrue to those who are making devices to reduce the effects of global warming. If this production means cleaner air and cleaner water, I'm all for it. But why must the effort be sold by mongering the new chicken-littlism, an apocalypse that isn't coming?