TCS Daily

Blair Gets Real on Climate Change

By Roy Spencer - November 1, 2005 12:00 AM

Those who advocate stringent controls on carbon emissions have the mistaken notion that we can do something substantial about global warming in the near future. Well, we can't. With a continuing rise in demand for affordable energy, the global economy would simply collapse if we were to mandate reductions in carbon emissions by a sufficient amount to have any measurable affect on future global temperatures, no matter what you believe those temperatures will be.

So with most of the countries of the world signing on to the Kyoto Protocol last February, it was only a matter of time before economic reality set in. It is probably safe to say that the vast majority of those countries will not meet their targets by the treaty's end date of 2012. The basic reason is this: given the choice between ensuring decent standard of living and poverty, most of the world's population will choose the former.

Tony Blair's opinion editorial in the 31 October Guardian Unlimited Observer represents a well reasoned and stark departure from much of what is heard being advocated by politicians these days on the subject of global warming. Blair's major points are:

        1) Quit blaming Bush. The U.S. Senate voted 95-0 against Kyoto during 
        the Clinton Administration, and the U.S. participation would have had 
        little effect on future emissions anyway.

        2) Huge growth in energy consumption in China and India must be addressed 
        as part of any future solution (Kyoto gives those countries a pass). 
        The emerging and established economies of the world will have to work 

        3) Since even the (relatively modest) Kyoto emission reduction targets 
        are proving difficult to meet, how are we going to achieve the much 
        larger reductions necessary to make an measurable impact on global 
        warming after Kyoto ends?

        4) The wealthy countries of the world can afford the investments in 
        technological progress to make alternative fuels -- solar, wind, biofuels, 
        even more nuclear -- more cost competitive. Those countries must 
        share those new technologies with developing nations.

Mr. Blair also emphasizes the importance of the November 1 meeting in London with the G8 countries along with India, China, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa. This meeting follows the Gleneagles G8 summit in July where Blair had emphasized, like the Bush administration, the importance of technological advancements to reducing carbon emissions. The London meeting precedes by one month the next major UN Conference of the Parties (COP-11) meeting in Montreal where debate will rage over post-Kyoto strategies for addressing global warming.

It seems that Tony Blair has seen the writing on the wall. And it says, "We 3 billion of the world's poor want a better life, too, so don't tell us what fuels we can and can't use." Global warming seems to be a concern of only those people who have achieved enough wealth to have the spare time to worry about such things. The poor are just hoping for a better life.

I do disagree, though, with Blair's invocation of "vicious climate disasters" as a reason for action. While I'm not sure what that term means, I suspect that he is referring at least in part to the recent increase in hurricane activity. But hurricane forecasters have been warning for decades that all of the coastal development that has taken place during a cyclical lull in hurricane activity would be at risk when the peak in the cycle returns. Any possible contribution to this activity from man-made global warming is speculative, and diverts attention from the more important point: intense tropical cyclones have always occurred in the past, will occur in the future, and it is only a matter of time before people and infrastructure in coastal areas are targets once again.

Overall, I am glad to see that political attitudes are gradually changing toward solutions that are based in technology, as this is the only realistic solution to the problem. If driving a hybrid or conserving on your electricity use makes you feel better, then do it. But new technologies will be required to reduce carbon emissions by substantial amounts -- say by 50% or more. Carbon sequestration during the burning of coal, safer nuclear, these are a couple of the more realistic alternatives.

But if you think humanity will choose pre-industrialism in order to "Save the Earth", you will probably have to find another planet to live on.


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