- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 8, 2010

Climate change isn’t a threat. CO2 isn’t a significant factor. But the action we’re proposing to take on climate mitigation will devastate our Western economies and impoverish a whole generation.

Over the last hundred years, mean global temperatures have increased by 0.7 of a degree Centigrade. That’s all. The whole climate scare is all about a fraction of a degree. According to Professor Phil Jones of the infamous Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, there has been no significant warming for the last 15 years.

And the slight warming we have seen is entirely consistent with well-established, long-term natural climate cycles. We had the Roman Optimum (warm); the Dark Ages (cool); the Medieval Warm Period; and the Little Ice Age (when they had ice-fairs on the River Thames in London). Over the last couple of centuries, we’ve been moving into what seems to be a new 21st Century Optimum. It’s rightly called an “Optimum.” Generally speaking, human societies do better in warmer weather.

When I raised this with the European Commission, they told me that recent changes were so sharp and rapid that they must be man-made. But 12,000 years ago in the Younger Dryas cold climate period, at the beginning of the current Interglacial, we saw temperature change at 10 times that rate. And there wasn’t an SUV to be seen.

When I was at Cambridge in the 1960s, everyone knew that climate was cyclical and was driven largely by astronomical cycles. And there is good evidence that recent decades have also seen warming on Mars and elsewhere in the solar system - pointing to a solar cause.

But the Warmists have the bizarre idea that only CO2 matters. Certainly CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but it’s not even the most important one. That’s water vapor, and there’s nothing we can do about it (as long as the wind blows over the ocean).

I’m horrified that the Environmental Protection Agency has declared CO2 a pollutant. They might as well declare oxygen a pollutant. We are a carbon-based life form, and CO2 is vital to the whole biosphere. Higher levels of atmospheric CO2 drive increased bio-mass formation and improved crop yields.

Al Gore is excited by a correlation between mean temperatures and CO2 levels over the past 600,000 years. He’s right about the correlation, but he doesn’t mention that the temperature graph leads the CO2 graph by several hundred years. The inescapable conclusion is that temperature drives CO2 - not vice versa.

Over the longer term, the correlation breaks down entirely. Current atmospheric CO2 levels are quite low in geo-historical terms. They have been 10 times as high in the past - and that was during an ice age. There is no tipping point. There is no runaway global warming.

Our efforts to control climate by reducing emissions are doomed to failure. Bjorn Lomborg, author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” (Cambridge University Press, 2001), has studied the economics of climate change and estimates that the European Union’s 20 percent emissions-reduction target will cost around $250 billion a year. Yet the impact by 2100 on global temperatures is likely to be only 0.05 a degree Centigrade - almost too small to measure.

The EU’s “Cap ‘n’ Trade” scheme has been a disaster. It has imposed high costs on industry, achieved little or nothing and introduced very severe distortions into the market. As a conservative, I hate new taxes, but if we had to disincentivize CO2 emissions, a straight carbon tax would be a vast improvement (especially if offset against other taxes to be revenue neutral). It would be fair, inclusive and predictable, and avoid the distortions of Cap ‘n’ Trade.

They argue that Cap ‘n’ Trade is “a market-based solution.” But it’s a wholly artificial market, trading in a virtual commodity, and subject always to the whims of bureaucrats and legislators. The carbon price in the EU has been extremely volatile, and often close to zero. I appeal to America: Look at the European experience before you go down that route.

Don’t believe the nonsense about “green jobs.” President Obama likes to cite the Spanish experience. But recent reports from Spain show that most of the green jobs created were ephemeral, while high costs meant that each new green job cost two or more jobs in the real economy. They talk about the economic opportunities presented by green industries. But how can you achieve economic growth by doubling the cost of electricity?

So while the oil gushes in the Gulf of Mexico, and “peak oil” makes headlines, should we do nothing and pollute ad lib? Of course not. We should be very concerned about energy security. We should reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels from unstable political regions.

At the margin, renewables have a role to play, if and when the price is right. But for the foreseeable future (at least until we get nuclear fusion), the mainstream base-load power we need to run our homes and our industries (and perhaps our electric vehicles) must come largely from nuclear and coal. Both the U.K. and the U.S. have coal reserves. We need to dig it up and burn it - and not worry about CO2. CO2 is not a pollutant. It’s practically airborne fertilizer.

Roger Helmer is member of the European Parliament for the East Midlands, England.