Climate Change and The Truth: Politics & Economics

Politics & Economics

As a consequence of a Christian worldview, your advice is that whenever “popular opinion is leaning one way, almost always lean the other way.” This statement makes some intuitive sense, but isn’t it contrary to the concept of a “moral majority?” More broadly, if popular opinion is almost always wrong and democracies are governed directly or indirectly by popular opinion, are they not inherently doomed to moral and spiritual failure?

Clearly, from your point of view, the political motivations and economic consequences of measures to curtail AGW are at least as concerning as the science. For instance, “While it may seem harmless to believe that global warming needs to be addressed, it is not. The remedy that is now being promoted by Gore and his liberal brethren will destroy the world’s economy and kill millions of people if allowed to be fully enacted.”

Statements like this raise a series of questions. If the problem is not real, and the science shows that it is not, then no action of any kind is merited. Why then place so much emphasis on the proposed actions? By directing so much bile at the supposed “leftist agenda” behind AGW and the possible economic consequences of fighting it, skeptics themselves open to the accusation that their logic is backwards. Specifically, they may be thinking that since the reality of AGW is being claimed by liberals, the solutions seem liberal, and the economic consequences of those solutions seem dangerous, AGW must not be real. You leave your self vulnerable to the accusation that your political and economic interests have corrupted your interpretation of available data, which is exactly the accusation you are making against climate scientists.

Apparently, “Had the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty on GW, been 100% ratified, and all the countries actually complied, global temperatures would have lowered by .07 degrees Celsius by 2050. That’s right, it would have had no statistically significant effect.” Does this statement concede that reducing greenhouse gas emissions can lower global average temperature, which means that the converse is true and AGW is real? Similarly, “I don’t mind trying something in the off chance that it might work; as long as it doesn’t hurt others in the process.” For what could it work? If AGW is not real, how could any solution “work” on a problem that does not exist?

A rather perplexing assertion is that “even if humans have caused some GW in the past, nothing we do can really make a difference to affect future global temperatures.” The IPCC responds to this assertion, “Given this daunting picture of increasing greenhouse gas abundances in the atmosphere, it is noteworthy that, for simpler challenges but still on a hemispheric or even global scale, humans have shown the ability to undo what they have done” (Somerville et al.). Also, how could we have caused climate change in the past but not now? More to the point, is non-existent or unstoppable?

Another political attack alleges that “Mr. Gore wants to have his cake and eat it too. He purchases ‘carbon credits’ from his own company so he can continue using more power than a small third world country.” If Mr. Gore truly is a hypocrite, then my response is the same as the response of Jesus to some of the hypocritical leaders of his day, “all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds” (Matthew 23:3).

Attacks on the economic consequences of combating AGW often address the economies of the developed and developing world. Specifically, the “main solutions Mr. Gore has proposed could severely hurt the developed world’s economies,” and if the Kyoto Protocol had been implemented, “the United States GDP would have been cut by 20% by 2010.” In short, effectively reducing greenhouse gas emissions is impossible if we wish to maintain a healthy economy.

In my opinion this view is, among other things, unpatriotic. The United States is well known for its history of innovation and technological advance. If our national creativity and engineering prowess can be tapped to develop nuclear energy, send people to the Moon, and create the Internet, I think a case can be made that we are capable of solving the problem of AGW without severe damage to our economy.

Studies have indicated that reducing our emissions may not be prohibitively expensive. A 1992 study, published in Science, found that

“Cost-effectiveness is a key measure for comparing a broad range of options to mitigate the effects of greenhouse warming. Although the full cost of many mitigation measures is difficult to assess, analysis suggests that a variety of energy efficiency and other measures that are now available could reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases by roughly 10 to 40% of current levels at relatively low cost, perhaps at a net cost savings” (Rubin et al.).

In this paper, the authors divided proposed measures to reduce greenhouse emissions into two categories. The first category contains measures that are relatively easy to implement with little or negative net cost. Of course, many of them would require a significant initial investment that would be recovered by cost savings over time. For example, a fluorescent light bulb is more expensive than an incandescent bulb, but it uses less electricity and therefore is less expensive to operate. These are the solutions that could achieve a 40% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions at a net savings.

The second category contains solutions that “are costly or that have significant other benefits or costs that are not readily quantified,” such as switching from internal combustion to electrical power for our cars. Included in this category is elimination of halocarbons, which included the CFCs that were causing damage to Earth’s ozone layer. This paper was written in 1992, when protocols and laws banning halocarbons we first being enforced. We have accomplished that goal, and yet I do not recall feeling any economic hardship because of new refrigerants. Based on that experience, we could probably implement most or all of the changes in the first category without damaging the economy; we might even improve it!

One can rhetorically ask, “how exactly does it matter if I (or ten million Americans for that matter) switch in more energy efficient light bulbs?” According to this study, replacing 3.5 incandescent bulbs per residence with compact fluorescent bulbs would reduce US emissions of greenhouse gasses by the equivalent of 39 million metric tons of CO2 annually (Ruben, et al.). That is a small fraction of the 7.2 billion metric tons of CO2 emitted by humanity annually from 2000-2005 (Solomon, et al.); however, expanding the implementation of energy efficient lighting to all commercial fixtures would reduce emissions by 117 million metric tons.

This discussion is not merely about changing light bulbs; this is about being conscious about our duty to care for God’s creation. Efficient lighting is but one of many ideas we can implement to fulfill that duty.

Some solutions to AGW may not be as easy to implement as those I have mentioned above. Some may require real and painful sacrifices. Doing the right thing often does; the cross of Christ makes that unambiguous, regardless of the allegation that implementing the Kyoto Protocol or other anti-AGW program would cause severe damage to the economies of the developed world “thus seriously hindering those countries’ ability to care for the undeveloped world.”

When did Jesus ever promise economic prosperity? He warned us not to become his disciples unless we were aware of and willing to pay the cost (Luke 14:25-33). If a drop in US GDP or our personal financial portfolio is part of the cost of being a disciple of the Creator, are we willing to pay it? In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus commanded his disciples not to worry about food, drink, or clothing; why then should we be worried about how our obedience to him will affect our nation’s GDP?

Regarding the abilities of the developed world to assist the developing one, if combating AGW does entail economic costs, we are morally obligated bear them rather than passing them on to the developed world. Also, I believe we must avoid taking too paternalistic an attitude towards the developing world because that would only breed counterproductive resentment.

Allowing AGW to continue would be most detrimental to the world’s poor. Rich people and nations have the resources to flee rising sea levels, follow changing rainfall patterns, or pay for air conditioning. Poor farmers do not. This recently led Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda to declare “climate change an act of aggression by the rich world against the poor one” (Economist).

In addition to economically damaging and evangelically unhelpful, most proposed AGW solutions are accused of being socialism in disguise. David Limbaugh is “sure many are convinced of the benign intentions of the global alarmists and discount any conspiratorial design on their part to radically compromise our capitalism, liberties and sovereignty, it’s hard to understand how they would proceed differently if they were active conspirators.” What exactly makes anyone think that scientists are capable of a conspiracy of this magnitude?

An unlikely ally in the fight against AGW, Newt Gingrich, addressed this issue in a debate with John Kerry; he noted that “the environment has a been a powerful emotional tool for bigger government and higher taxes. And therefore if you’re a conservative, if you hear these arguments, you know what’s coming next….So even though it might be the right thing to do, you might end up fighting it because you don’t want the bigger government and the higher taxes.” Despite this, he still agreed that we must reduce our emissions of CO2. He is in favor of a market-based “green conservatism.”

I do not know enough details of the former speaker’s proposals to comment on them in detail. However, I do realize that many solutions to AGW may not be practical, useful, effective, moral, or advisable. I realize that we must be very creative and ambitious in our response to AGW. I also acknowledge that socialism is destructive and dangerous, as the examples of the Soviet Union and North Korea terribly demonstrate.

Another politically surprising development occurred recently here at Ohio State involving Prof. Lonnie Thompson. His ice core research has been a major component of our understanding of AGW. I attended a lecture he gave in May, and he did an excellent job of explaining his research. He also mentioned that he provided much of the ice core data used by Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth. He will receive the Medal of Science from President Bush for his research on climate change (Editorial).

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