As the New York Times
detailed yesterday, Al Gore has, in the last few years, become a very, very rich man, thanks in large part to a number of investments he’s made in companies that profit when governments make policy driven by climate-change panic.
Of course, the reason so many governments are making policies driven by climate-change panic is because of, well, Al Gore. Credit where it’s due, the man’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, probably did more to sell the average voter on the belief in man-made, cataclysmic global warming than all the work of Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and the United Nations. And few people have his kind of solid connections in Washington, D.C.-- the kind that helped a small California firm, in which Gore’s firm took a healthy stake, find its way to $560 million in federal grants.
The former vice president is only telling it like it is when he says he’s put his money where his mouth is. “Do you think there is something wrong with being active in business in this country?” he says. He’s certainly not the first guy to try pushing politics in the direction of his business interests. High-powered environment-industry lobbyists are just the newest kid on K Street.
An estimated $100 billion will be doled out just this year by governments in the form of handouts and subsidies for business and consumers for renewable energy alone; many, many billions more for initiatives that improve efficiency, grow transit, smart meter homes, and a plethora of other purportedly eco-friendly tactics. And the dramatic rise and enrichment of Big Green helps explain why so many people, over the last few weeks, have been superfreaking out about Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. The authors of the runaway bestseller Freakonomics are under attack by environmentalists for their latest book Superfreakonomics because they dared to suggest there might be a realistic, cheap and easy way to cool the atmosphere.
Levitt and Dubner are no “global warming deniers.” As Levitt, a University of Chicago economist, recently wrote in his defense on the New York Times’ Freakonomics blog, he believes the world has gotten “substantially warmer” and that the effects could be dire. That led the authors to Intellectual Ventures, a Seattle-based firm created by a bunch of science supernerds with massive brains and massive fortunes; the key man, Nathan Myhrvold, was Microsoft’s in-house “futurist, strategist, founder of its research lab, and whisperer-in-chief to Bill Gates.” Gates, an investor in the firm, says of Myhrvold, “I don’t know anyone I would say is smarter.” IV has sold missile defense systems, computing advances, and satellite technology. Now, as documented in Superfreakonomics, the company has a global warming solution.
All the plans to reduce emissions through measures like windmills and hybrids and cap-and-trade schemes are “too little, too late, too optimistic,” Myhrvold believes. Having studied the dramatic global cooling patterns that follow “big ass” volcano eruptions like Mount Pinatubo in 1991 or Mount Tambora in 1815 -- eruptions powerful enough to shoot sulphur dioxide up into the stratosphere -- the answer dawned on him. Tie a really long hose to a bunch of really good balloons, and a series of pumps along its length, and run it up to the stratosphere. Then pump out about 35 gallons of sulfur dioxide every minute (he actually thinks Alberta’s a perfect place to put the hose; after visiting the oilsands with Bill Gates, he noticed the large amount of sulfur being produced as a byproduct, and its northern location would help the SO2 disperse over the planet more effectively). The result: a cooler planet.
The idea has some pretty impressive endorsements. Helping develop the technology is Stanford University’s Ken Caldeira, one of the world’s most respected climate scientists and a fervent believer in manmade global warming -- he shared in Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and recently wrote: “I believe that it is essentially immoral for us to be making devices (automobiles, coal power plants, etc) that use the atmosphere as a sewer for our waste products. I am in favor of outlawing production of such devices as soon as possible.” Paul Crutzen, the Dutch scientist who won a Nobel Prize for science for his research on ozone depletion, also says that Kyoto and other carbon-cutting-and-trading schemes are ineffective in the face of climate change. He too believes that putting sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere “is the only option available to rapidly reduce temperature rises and counteract other climatic effects.”
Strangely, many of the environmentalists who claim that reversing global warming is their most urgent concern have been spending the last few weeks trashing Levitt and Dubner for daring to report on Intellectual Ventures’ idea. Hundreds of pro-Kyoto blogs have torn into the authors, smearing their work and their motives, accusing them of the apostasy of denying global change reality—even though the two make it clear they've no beef with the IPCC. Joe Romm, a former official in the Clinton administration and editor of the Climate Progress blog, dismisses the book as “error-riddled” and calls the hose idea “BS”; economist Paul Krugman says the authors “grossly misrepresent” climate research; And Al Gore’s opinion of geo-engineering a solution to climate change? “In a word,” he says. “I think it’s nuts.”
Could be. But then, Al Gore -- as the Times reminds us -- makes millions from investments in carbon-trading markets and solar cell companies; businesses that profit from a environmental-model based around the Kyoto approach. He doesn’t stand to benefit from IV’s hose-to-the-sky approach. In fact, not many people would: putting one hose at each end of the planet is all that would be necessary, and would only cost about $20 million to set up, and about $10 million a year to maintain. Outside of licensing the technology from Intellectual Ventures, there’s not much more room for anyone else to profit.
Now, environmentalists tell us they only want to save the planet from overheating. “If you believe that the reason I have been working on this issue for 30 years is because of greed, you don’t know me,” Gore said while testifying before Congress in favour of a cap-and-trade plan. Seeing how they react to a cheap, simple and effective solution to global warming (even if it’s not this one), and which doesn’t require hordes of UN bureaucrats and NGOs and a massive transfer of wealth, is a surefire way to find out if they mean it.