Recently, I attended a conference in New York City entitled “Global Warming: Was It Ever Really a Crisis?” Sponsored by the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based nonpartisan public policy think tank, it was attended by over 600 scientists, economists, and policy makers who characterize themselves as “climate realists” as opposed to “climate alarmists”. Climate realists believe that the danger of climate change has been exaggerated both as to the magnitude and the degree of human causation, and that most of the proposed “solutions” are not viable anyway.
The summary below provides an overview of the seven issues discussed at the conference: the definition of the problem, and the three scientific and three economic objections to climate alarmism.
The Nature of the Problem
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is added to the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels, which include coal, gasoline, natural gas, and oil. CO2 traps some infrared radiation reflected back from the surface of the earth, and can therefore cause some additional heat to be retained. Gases with this property are called greenhouse gases. Water vapor is also a greenhouse gas.
The issues at hand are whether the effect is substantial, and whether anything can or should be done about it.
Scientific Weaknesses of the Alarmist Position
Natural Cycles. The earth has been undergoing large temperature fluctuations for millions of years. Whether we measure changes from a thousand years ago, from the end of the Little Ice Age around 1850, or over the last century, a pattern emerges. There is no correlation between CO2 and temperature over the short term. Indeed there has been no temperature increase over the last ten years, based on the most accurate measure of temperature—satellites. Over the long term, the direction of cause and effect is from temperature to CO2, in contrast to the claims of the movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.”
Temperatures of the Arctic and Greenland were higher in the 1930s. Temperatures have been declining in Antarctica, except for the small peninsula that extends northward from the main body of ice.
Models. We can’t perform a controlled experiment on the earth—therefore the alarmist case rests largely on computer models. Though the outputs of models are sometimes reported as “experiments”, they are no more so than are stock market forecasts. Models are heavily implicated in the current financial collapse, a problem enormously simpler than that of modeling the earth’s climate.
CO2 Science. The human contribution of CO2 is a small fraction of the earth’s CO2, which, in turn, is a small fraction of all greenhouse gases, which are 95 percent water vapor. Thus the effects of human created CO2 are minor. While the hot climate of Venus is often cited as a warning, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere of Venus exceeds that of the earth by a factor of thousands. Finally, there is also a natural limit to the effects of additional carbon dioxide—they are diminished as more is added.
Flawed Economic Analysis By Alarmists
Alternative Energy. With the exception of nuclear power, alarmist proposals for alternative energy are not viable. Corn ethanol has failed. The diversion of land to grow corn has raised food prices worldwide, resulting in food riots. The yield is very low, and the production barely reduces the emitted carbon dioxide.
It takes thousands of wind turbines to equal one large power plant, and the power must be transported from wind farms to cities. Because the wind is highly variable, these turbines must be backed up by traditional power sources anyway. Solar plants have similar problems, with their productivity dependent on warm weather and direct sunlight.
As a result of their deficiencies, alternative power sources require massive government subsidies in the form of tax breaks, requirements that utilities buy inefficient power, and “cap and trade” programs to ration energy. These policies will result in the direct and indirect cost to the world economy of trillions of dollars.
Nuclear energy can provide the enormous energy described by Einstein’s famous equation, thereby reducing our dependence on hostile countries. Nuclear plants can directly produce electricity both for homes and electric cars. Unfortunately, alarmists generally oppose it.
Funding. Contrary to alarmist claims, conservatively stated, overall funding of alarmism exceeds that of realists by a factor of a hundred fold. Much of this comes from the $7 billion spent annually on government funding of alarmist climate change and related research.
Current Problems. Alarmists often claim that climate change will aggravate existing problems, such as malaria, coastal flooding, and heat deaths. However, inexpensive solutions are available—trying to alter the earth’s climate would be like a tailor cutting off a customer’s arms because the sleeves are too short.
A fuller discussion of these issues, with endnotes, is may be read online here
Arthur Wiegenfeld is an independent investor in New York City. He has training in physics, computer simulation, finance, and economics.