John McCain’s global-warming speech on Monday made it clear that there will be no presidential candidate this year willing to question the assertion that global warming (a.k.a. “climate change”) is manmade, or the assertion that we can fix global warming by passing a few laws.
Along with Clinton and Obama, McCain’s proposal to attack global warming now gives voters three choices for a car color — as long as it is black. Like Clinton and Obama, McCain’s proposal involves a “cap and trade” mechanism to legislatively limit CO2 emissions in the coming years, with the free market minimizing the economic damage by allowing a trading of emission credits between companies. He also includes an allowance for carbon offsets, although everyone (except Al Gore) believes this to be more smoke-and-mirrors than a real-world strategy for reducing carbon emissions.
What worries me is the widespread misperception that we can do anything substantial about carbon emissions without seriously compromising economic growth. To be sure, forcing a reduction in CO2 emissions will help spur investment in new energy technologies. But so does a price tag of $126 for a barrel of oil. Finding a replacement for carbon-based energy will require a huge investment of wealth, and destroying wealth is not a very good first step toward that goal.
When the public finds out how much any legislation that punishes energy use is going to cost them, with no guarantee that anything we do will have a measurable impact on future climate, there will be a revolt just like the one now materializing in the U.K. and the EU. At some point, as they are faced with the stark reality that mankind’s requirement for an abundant source of energy cannot simply be legislated out of existence, the public will begin asking, “Just how sure are we that humans are causing global warming?”
And this is where the science establishment has, in my view, betrayed the public’s trust.
Even though there has never been a single scientific paper published that has ruled out natural variability for most of the warming we’ve seen since 1850, Big Science has managed to convince politicians and much of the public that the science is settled. Apparently, our addition of nine molecules of carbon dioxide to each 100,000 molecules of air over the last 150 years can now be blamed for anything and everything we choose. Hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves, floods, glaciers flowing toward the sea…. all of these used to happen naturally, but no more.
The warming that allowed the Vikings to farm in Greenland 1,000 years ago was surely natural. But we are now told that warming in Greenland today is surely manmade. Glaciers retreating in western Canada have revealed evidence of previous forests, showing that warming and cooling cycles do indeed occur, even without SUVs. Yet the SUV is now the scapegoat for retreating glaciers.
McCain pointed to shrinking Arctic sea ice and collapsing Antarctic ice shelves as obvious evidence that humans are to blame, even though the sea ice did the same thing in the 1920s and 1930s, and those ice shelves must break off eventually, as new glacial ice flows toward the sea to take their place.
But McCain has made it clear that the science really does not matter anyway because, even if humans are not to blame for global warming, stopping carbon-dioxide emissions is the right thing to do. And if we had another choice for most of our energy needs, I might be willing to accept such a claim as harmless enough.
But carbon dioxide is necessary for life on Earth, and I have a difficult time calling something so fundamentally important a “pollutant.” Maybe the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is higher now than it has been in hundreds of thousands of years. So what? I am increasingly convinced that its influence on climate pales in comparison to the influence that natural climate events like El Niño and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation have on regional climate. Indeed, most of the warming we’ve seen in the last century might well be due to these natural modes of climate variability alone.
The trouble is that no one has been funded by the government to investigate such a possibility, and the mandate for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is to address manmade climate change — not natural climate change.
So, here we are with bad science ready to support bad policy decisions that will lead to bad economic times ahead, and no presidential candidate who is willing to ask the hard questions. While we hate to be pandered to by politicians, in this case I can only hope that they really are pandering — that this is hot air and not prospective policy.
– Dr. Roy W. Spencer is a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He is author of the new book, Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians, and Misguided Policies that Hurt the Poor.