The heavy condemnatory breathing on the subject of global warming outdoes anything since high moments of the Inquisition. A respectable columnist (Thomas Friedman of the New York Times) opened his essay last week by writing, “Sometimes you read something about this administration that’s just so shameful it takes your breath away.”
What asphyxiated this critic was the discovery that a White House official had edited “government climate reports to play up uncertainty of a human role in global warming.” The correspondent advises that the culprit had been an oil-industry lobbyist before joining the administration, and on leaving it he took a job with ExxonMobil.
For those with addled reflexes, here is the story compressed: (1) Anyone who speaks discriminatingly about global warming is conspiring to belittle the threat. Such people end up (2) working for ExxonMobil, a perpetrator of the great threat the malefactor sought to distract us from.
I’d guess that, in the current mood, I should enter the datum that my father was in the oil business. But having done that, I think it fair to ask: Are we invited to assume that anyone who works in a business that generates greenhouse gases (a) is complicit in the global-warming problem, and (b) should resign and seek work elsewhere? One recalls the plant in Nazi Germany that manufactured the toxic gas Zyklon B. The primary use of this gas was in the extermination camps, whose masters were looking for efficient ways to destroy human beings. Is the community engaged in oil production the contemporary equivalent of the makers of Zyklon B?
Critics are correct in insisting that human enterprises have an effect on climate. What they cannot at this point do is specify exactly how great the damage is, nor how much relief would be effected by specific acts of natural propitiation.
The whole business is eerily religious in feel. Back in the 15th century, the question was: Do you believe in Christ? It was required in Spain by the Inquisition that the answer should be affirmative, leaving to one side subsidiary specifications.
It is required today to believe that carbon-dioxide emissions threaten the basic ecological balance. The assumption then is that inasmuch as a large proportion of the damage is man-made, man-made solutions are necessary. But it is easy to see, right away, that there is a problem in devising appropriate solutions, and in allocating responsibility for them.
To speak in very general terms, the United States is easily the principal offender, given the size of our country and the intensity of our use of fossil-fuel energy. But even accepting the high per-capita rate of consumption in the United States, we face the terrible inadequacy of ameliorative resources. If the USA were (we are dealing in hypotheses) to eliminate the use of oil or gas for power, would that forfeiture be decisive?
Well, no. It would produce about 23 percent global relief, and at a devastating cost to our economy.
As a practical matter, what have modern states undertaken with a view to diminishing greenhouse gases? The answer is: Not very much. What is being done gives off a kind of satisfaction, of the kind felt back then when prayers were recited as apostates were led to the stake to be burned. If you levied a 100 percent surtax on gasoline in the United States, you would certainly reduce the use of it, but the arbiter is there to say: What is a complementary sacrifice we can then expect from India and China? China will soon overtake the United States in the production of greenhouse gases.
At Kyoto, an effort was made ten years ago to allocate proportional reductions nation by nation. The United States almost uniquely declined to subscribe to the Kyoto protocols. Canada, Japan, and the countries of Western Europe subscribed, but some have already fallen short of their goals, and all of them are skeptical about the prospect of making future scheduled reductions. It is estimated that if the United States had subscribed to Kyoto, it would have cost us $100 billion to $400 billion per year.
There is, now and then, offsetting good news. The next report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we have learned, will be less pessimistic than earlier reports. It will predict, e.g., a sea-level increase of up to 23 inches by the end of the century, substantially better than earlier IPCC predictions of 29 inches — and light-years away from the 20 feet predicted by former Vice President Al Gore.
Meanwhile, the Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg said something outside the hearing of the outraged columnist. He noted solemnly that any increase in heat-related deaths should be balanced against the corresponding decrease in cold-related deaths. … We need hope, and self-confidence.
© Universal Press Syndicate