January 28, 2009

Global Warming: Policy Change, Not Climate Change, Is the Real Danger

By Julian Dunraven, J. D., M.P.A.

Honorable friends:

Global warming does indeed seem to be a pervasive problem. Yesterday it plagued me in my morning paper, harangued me from radio and television broadcasts, and even managed to insinuate itself into the conversation of irksome social acquaintances. Although I have become accustomed to bad policy masquerading as good science, and even look forward to reading my Global-Warming-Article-of-the-Day in the paper, yesterday’s news was particularly insufferable.

Todd Hartman of The Rocky Mountain News started it off, trumpeting Dr. Susan Solomon’s new pronouncement that CO2 emissions “will irreversibly change the planet,” for centuries to come no matter what we do. I suppose someone should suggest to Dr. Solomon that, if she has noticed human behavior has little to no impact on climate change, it might be because the whole things is part of the earth’s natural and periodic cycles. However, I was rather hoping her pronouncement might end the climate change squawking; after all, she does not seem to have much hope that there is anything more to be done. Alas, fortune is not so kind.

True believers never lose hope, and so NPR did its best to keep the faith alive by broadcasting proposed solutions. It seems a few members of the scientific community were watching “The Simpsons” and drew a bit too much inspiration from Mr. Burn’s attempt to block the sun by raising a giant metal disk over Springfield. Of course, the earth is a lot bigger than the town of Springfield, and thus there would have to be quite a few of these disks launched into orbit before we could block enough sunlight to begin cooling the earth. The disks would also have to be replaced occasionally as they fell out of orbit. The real sticking point is the cost, which is currently several trillion dollars. It is always unfortunate when mere economics gets in the way of good Simpsons . . . or science rather.

Another absurd proposal NPR and others have deigned to promulgate, involves launching sulfur particles into the atmosphere. This, would be far cheaper than the Mr. Burns plan, and would sufficiently darken the sky to promote global cooling. Unfortunately, it may also severely change weather patterns, increase acid rain, and—oh yes—darken the sky. No one quite knows how many species of animal and plant life would be devastated from a decrease in light sufficient to cool the earth. It might eventually leave the world a barren wasteland, but everyone agrees it would be a cooling barren wasteland.

Fortunately, it is only bureaucrats like those running the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who seem to use middle school science fair projects as the standard for publishable research. The IPCC’s report, which was authored by a mere 52 scientists, was widely touted as representing the final and absolute conviction among the scientific community that Global Warming is the result of human produced CO2 emissions. Instead, the Republican minority of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, led by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), has soundly refuted this in its Minority Report, which cites over 650 scientists, all contesting the IPCC’s claims.

One of the more interesting dissenters is Dr. Don Easterbrook, whose study of the climate indicates normal and alternating periods of warming and cooling stretching back for millennia. Not only does Dr. Easterbrook contest the idea that Global Warming is caused by humans, after looking at the sun’s recent activity and the Pacific Ocean’s decadal oscillation, he has staked his reputation on his theory that we are now entering a period of Global Cooling, and the Warming advocates will soon see their arguments collapse.

Whether or not he turns out to be correct will be largely irrelevant for the next four years. President Barack Obama’s cabinet selections clearly indicate the he accepts the idea of human caused Global Warming absolutely, and intends to write policy with that in mind. In his January 2009 Monthly Review, Richard Loomis of World Energy gives a thorough analysis of “President. Obama’s Energy Picks.”

As. Mr. Loomis explains, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sees Global Warming as a national security threat and, during her campaign, advocated for strong carbon cutting measures. Steven Chu, as Secretary of Energy, has expressed great distaste for oil, dislikes nuclear power for the waste it generates, and refers to coal as, “my worst nightmare.” Solar, wind, and natural gas power and natural gas fuel seem to be his preferences. Carol Browner, the “Energy Czar,” comes to us from the EPA, where she argued that California should be granted a waiver from the Clean Air Act to allow it to more strictly regulate carbon emissions. Lisa Jackson, the EPA Administrator, pushed a moratorium on new coal plants as the EPA head for New Jersey. Then there is Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior who, while not joining the rest in his hatred of coal, is strongly opposed to expanding oil drilling whether on land or off shore.

From this list, Mr. Loomis is correct to fear some sort of cap and trade mechanism being forced on the U.S. by executive order. And herein lies the real danger of Global Warming. In his January 24th broadcast of “the Big Picture,” Jim Puplava warns that the U.S. will have a difficult time convincing the rest of the world to join in such an initiative during this economic crisis. Europe especially will be disinclined to rely more on natural gas when Putin has consistently demonstrated his willingnes to use the gas supply as political leverage. Thus, the U.S. will be forced to pursue carbon reduction policy alone. The high energy costs of such a policy would put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage to Europe, China, and our other major trading partners. This is especially worrisome at a time when tax revenues are declining and government spending is increasing, and Mr. Puplava is right to wonder how much more of our debt the world will continue to finance when other nations are beset with their own economic problems.

Then there is peak oil. The recent IEA World Energy Outlook reports a 9.1% annual depletion rate in the world’s oil reserves. All major oil fields are in decline, virtually no new discoveries are being made, and oil demand continues to rise across the world—despite the economic crisis—especially in China, India, and oil producing nations developing their own economies. We are set for an oil supply crisis to hit between 2012-2015. Our own oil reserves are not sufficient to avert this problem, but they can help buy more time for us. However, as developing an oil field takes anywhere from 4-6 years, we would need to start investing today. Instead, low oil prices, and the refusal of the Obama administration to expand drilling while it considers actually raising taxes on oil produces has all but killed capital investment in this vital field.
Natural gas fuel is also a viable stop gap measure while we search for something to more permanently replace oil. However, it is not unlimited, and if we insist on squandering it to supply our electricity, it will not be of much help to us when we face the coming oil supply crisis.

As I have said before, Global Warming is something science is still vigorously debating as it attempts to fully understand the causes of climate change. However, to the Obama administration, the debate is over. In the midst of an economic crisis, it is willing to tax coal and nuclear power into extinction—despite an already overburdened grid. It is willing to put our nation’s entire economy in peril of the worst oil supply crisis ever seen and squander the natural gas resources that could help protect us. And it is willing to do all of this solely on the basis of its faith in human caused Global Warming. Whether climate change is a real problem caused by humans is still up for debate. However, the dangers of policy change based on that premise are very real and imminent.

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