President Obama will be hard put to satisfy his several campaign promises: to restore prosperity and jobs, to conduct a foreign policy backed by a strong economy and to satisfy environmental demands to "save the planet." His job will be much easier if he listens to independent advice on climate science.
Get ready for a three-ring circus. In one corner you find those concerned with the recovery of the economy, in the second corner those concerned about threats to national security and in the third corner global warmers who agonize about catastrophic climate change.
The battle between these three factions will revolve about the use of energy and will play out in the White House and in Congress, but also in the public arena:
• Obama's economic advisers at Treasury and the Budget Office will try to delay any major climate policies that could adversely impact economic recovery.
• The National Security Council and Defense Department, and to a lesser extent the State Department, will be concerned with maintaining a strong U.S. economy to be able to act forcefully when foreign problems arise.
• The global warmers will be led by energy-climate czarina Carol Browner, EPA chief during the Clinton years, and by science adviser John Holdren, who testified that a billion people might die by 2020 unless greenhouse-gas emissions are sharply reduced.
Using all the powers of the Clean Air Act, the EPA may try to impose severe regulations on carbon dioxide, which they would like to label as a pollutant. If successful, it would bring economic activity to a halt.
The outcome of such internal battles is never certain. In Germany, the minister for industry has just stepped down because he opposed the drastic climate actions demanded by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
On the other hand, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has walked away from the commitments of his Labor Party to institute a "cap and trade" scheme.
As these disputes continue, keep in mind three facts:
1. Nothing can be achieved by way of controlling atmospheric levels of CO2 without the active participation of China, India and other developing nations. It is a global issue, and the U.S. cannot make a significant impact, even if it were to adopt extreme measures. By now, China has become the largest emitter of CO2.
Obama may still seem committed to his campaign promise to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020 and 60% by 2050 (or was it 80% — and does it matter?). But remember that the U.S. Senate voted unanimously against anything like the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for a reduction of only 5%. And note that European nations and Japan, which signed up for Kyoto, will not come close to achieving even this modest goal by 2012, when Kyoto expires.
Despite this, politicians are making grand promises for the far future as they approach the crucial Copenhagen 2009 negotiations to define the "son of Kyoto."
2. Remember also that global warming, whether natural or human-induced, may be good for you. Economists tell us that a modest warming would improve agriculture and forestry and increase GNP. And historical evidence backs their studies.
In any case, the climate has been mildly cooling for the past decade and may continue to cool for another decade or more — even while CO2 levels keep rising — causing much suffering around the world.
3. Finally, be aware that carbon dioxide may not have as much of an impact on temperatures as projected by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). While their 2007 Report asserts a better-than-90% certainty that the average temperature increase over the last 50 years is human-caused, they have produced no credible evidence to back this up. None!
On the contrary, an independent assessment of the same published information by the Non-Governmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) reaches exactly the opposite result: Nature, not human activity, rules the climate.
Apparently, the ongoing scientific debate hasn't yet made much impact on politicians or the public. I would blame the media, which seem to give more play to the catastrophic scenarios advanced by the global warmers.
But even Al Gore no longer claims that there are only one or two climate skeptics. Their number has been growing steadily.
Last year, 100 prominent climate scientists signed a letter to the U.N. secretary general, warning against accepting the IPCC results. So far, 650 climate scientists have expressed their skepticism about anthropogenic global warming. And 31,000 scientists, about one-third of them with Ph.D degrees, have signed the Oregon Petition against the Kyoto Protocol.
In the U.S., the "cooler heads" seem to be gaining ground. But nothing is ever sure. So stay tuned.
Singer, an atmospheric physicist, is president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project
and professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. He also served as the founding director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service. His latest book is "Unstoppable Global Warming — Every 1,500 Years" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007). He and other experts discuss major issues facing the Obama administration in IBD's "Testing Obama" series.
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