Saturday, February 12, 2005

Two years ago, I wrote that, as a compensation for joining the U.S. effort in the Middle East, Tony Blair would exert considerable pressure on President Bush to sign on to the absurd Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

Kyoto is absurd because it does absolutely nothing measurable within the foreseeable future about planetary temperature, while one nation — the United States — bears almost all the cost. Kyoto is an economic weapon, not a climatic instrument, pointed at America. Europeans, allies or not, know this full well. That is why, for several years, not only did the French and Germans demand the U.S. implement it but do so in the way that would do us the most financial harm.

Mr. Blair’s recent pronouncements acknowledge the potential for economic harm, but he still urges the U.S. forward. With or without U.S. support, the treaty takes effect Wednesday.

Indeed, Mr. Blair’s demands are even more stringent than Kyoto. Mr. Blair’s new cudgel is an outrageous report by the “International Climate Change Task Force” (ICCT), headed by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, Maine Republican, and British Member of Parliament Stephen Beyers. It argues the planet’s surface should not be allowed to warm more than 2 degrees Celsius over that of pre-industrial times. Kyoto only prevents .07 degree of warming per half-century. Mr. Blair is pushing for the equivalent of 100 Kyotos.

The 2-degree cap is an interesting proposition, to say the least. The planet has already warmed about 1 degree C. since the Industrial Revolution. (At best, about 0.4 degree might be attributable to human emissions of greenhouse gases. The remaining majority, 0.6 degree C., had to do with the Industrial Revolution coinciding with the end of a cold period that mainstream climate scientists call the Little Ice Age).

So, the ICCT is really saying the planet can only tolerate an additional 1 degree of human warming. It represents the first attempt to make this modest warming look like a disaster, which it surely is not. The 1-degree warming already observed was accompanied, in developed nations, by doubled life expectancy, quintupled yields of some crops, and democratized wealth. Global warming actually contributed to the crops, thanks to the fertilizing effect of carbon dioxide and the fact that warming the coldest air (the greenhouse effect “signature”) lengthens the growing season a bit.

Where measured by aircraft, the human warming was concurrent with a decline in maximum winds in destructive hurricanes, no change in the frequency of severe tornadoes, and a general slight increase in precipitation in the agricultural mid-latitudes. Contrary to popular media accounts, the professional climatology literature demonstrates this increase is not disproportionately in extreme rains. This can be seen in records of U.S. stream flow. The general characteristic is that low flow (“drought”) conditions have become less frequent.

ICCT assumes an additional identical warming, spread over many decades, will somehow reverse all these wonderful things and cause global disaster. There is no mechanism in any of the dozens of mathematical climate simulations that so dramatically shifts these already established trends.

In fact, the planet was as warm as the ICCT fears for three millennia, roughly from 4,000 to 7,000 years ago. The warming was amplified in the Arctic. That means for 3,000 years the Arctic Inuit culture, which the ICCT says is imperiled by warming, adapted. Actually, it flourished.

Further, there is no technologically and politically feasible way to reduce emissions enough to dramatically change the current temperature trajectory. Yes, the world could produce much more energy from nuclear power, which carries virtually no greenhouse emissions, but the same political forces that exaggerate climate hysteria adamantly oppose nuclear.

So the only method is to make energy (read: fossil fuel energy) unaffordably expensive. This is a sure way to help people die in heat waves, as they will be unable to buy the electricity to run their air conditioners. And it also removes the capital that would be used by investors in future technologies. Those are the ones that, of economic necessity, will be more efficient. They don’t exist now, no one knows what they are. And if no one can afford to invest in them, they will never be.

In other words, the only way to attain Mr. Blair’s target is indeed to cause economic harm. There’s no way around it.

Tony Blair should stop nagging the United States about climate change. We understand the issue. We understand it is overblown. And we understand it is the affluent who will invest in the efficient future.

Patrick J. Michaels is the Cato Institute senior fellow in environmental studies and author of “Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media.”

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