TCS Daily

Getting Shifty

By Nick Schulz - October 11, 2002 12:00 AM

For ideologues, when arguments are unpersuasive, you don't conclude your position is flawed. You just change your arguments.

Consider environmental activists and global warming. Greens have been saying for years that the emission of greenhouse gases due to the burning of fossil fuels - the lifeblood of our modern technological and industrial economy - is contributing to global warming. Therefore, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the health of the planet. (They continue this assertion even though climate models don't demonstrate significant warming attributable to the burning of fossil fuels, but that's a debate for another day.)

Many honest environmentalists at least acknowledged that reducing emissions would prove very costly for the global economy. When Al Gore signed the Kyoto Protocol - the UN-backed initiative to reduce global greenhouse emissions - he said Kyoto was a plan that "couples ambitious environmental targets with flexible market mechanisms to [reduce greenhouse gases] at the lowest possible cost" (emphasis added). The former Vice President was mindful of the economic costs of restricting energy use. But he argued it would be worth it if it ensured a healthier planet.

Those traditional arguments proved unpersuasive. The United States Senate voted 95-0 to reject Kyoto. And President George W. Bush - pointing to the inconclusive science of global warming and the cost of the Kyoto Protocol - rejected Kyoto as "fatally flawed" and advocated rethinking climate change regulations altogether.

In effect, greens lost the argument over Kyoto. But rather than concede, they are now shifting their arguments.

'Economic Perils'

Witness a new report from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). The report says that failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol - not Kyoto itself - will be enormously economically costly. The report states that "the increasing frequency of severe climatic events [due to global warming] has the potential to stress insurers, reinsurers and banks to the point of impaired viability or even insolvency."

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP Executive Director, said "This report is a wake up call for the global financial community. It highlights the real risks and economic perils they are facing as a result of human-influenced climate change."

See, Kyoto isn't costly. It's inaction that is expensive. The report then advocates energy suppression measures such as Kyoto and others to avoid economic (not environmental) catastrophe.

Once upon a time, greens admitted Kyoto would be costly. Now they are saying 'no Kyoto' is costly. One of these two positions must be correct. So is the UNEP report onto something?

Not likely. The noted MIT climatologist Richard Lindzen pointed out recently at a Capitol Hill briefing that there is no evidence to suggest that global warming would lead to, among other things, increased frequency or intensity of storms. Indeed, current environmental understanding would suggest just the opposite, since on a warmer planet the gradient of sea surface temperature between the tropics and extra-tropics would be reduced, thus reducing storminess.

Furthermore the Third Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently pointed out that, "For some other extreme phenomena, many of which may have important impacts on the environment and society, there is currently insufficient information to assess recent trends, and confidence in models and understanding is inadequate to make firm projections. In particular, very small-scale phenomena such as thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail, and lightning are not simulated in global models. Insufficient analysis has occurred of how extra-tropical cyclones may change."

Either implementing Kyoto will cost a lot of money or not implementing Kyoto will cost a lot of money. Once environmentalists figure out which of these they believe to be the case, then our debate over environmental science and regulation might begin to make some sense.



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