By Randy Eminger
The following article originally appeared in the 1998 Election Issue of the Georgia Policy Review.
Perhaps more than most years, the talk in Georgia this summer turned to the weather. We all sweated through the muggy mornings and scorching afternoons. But hot summers in the South are not that out of the ordinary. What is odd is that this year, many weather discussions have been upgraded from a casual barbershop conversation to a national political debate.
Like many Americans, I am not comfortable with the explanation that this summer’s heat was the result of global warming. Supporters of this theory are all over the map when it comes to trying to use what most people see as natural variations in the weather to support their belief that human activity is changing the earth’s climate. If it’s hot and dry, they blame global warming. If it’s cold and snows, they also blame global warming.
But these folks are doing far more than talking about the weather. They propose doing something on the basis of unsubstantiated theory. They intend to combat the threat they call global warming by forcing Americans to pay far higher prices to operate our air conditioners, our cars, our homes and our businesses, and to risk losing our jobs.
In particular, the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 agreement that calls for drastic action, is a recipe for disaster that will not provide any measurable benefit to the global climate. The supporters of this agenda are willing to sacrifice America’s economic well being for nothing more than a theory. Certainly, it was hot this summer and well into autumn. But global warming advocates, led in particular by Vice President Al Gore, would have you believe it was the hottest summer since records were first kept. It wasn’t, as data from state climatological archives reflect:
• Los Angeles hit 109 degrees on July 12, 1891 – 10 degrees warmer than this year’s top temperature in L.A.;
• Little Rock, Ark., broke 112 in July, 1986, 11 degrees warmer than this year’s top temperature;
• Death Valley hit 134 degrees on July 10, 1913, five degrees warmer than this year’s high.
In fact, the 1930s recorded much hotter summers in this country, with 15 states establishing their record highs in 1936 alone. It is also worth noting that most of this century’s warming (about 1oC ) occurred prior to World War II and the industrial expansion that led to increased fossil fuel use in the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Also, there is enormous scientific disagreement related to the theory of global climate change. Satellite data gathered by two scientists — John Christy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville and Roy Spencer of NASA — show a slight long-term cooling trend in the earth’s upper atmosphere. Satellite data is the most accurate and the only truly global measure of the earth’s temperature, and this data is confirmed to be accurate by comparing it to another independent temperature record gathered by weather balloons that are launched daily.
In fact, Dr. Sallie Baliunas, an astrophysicist at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, reported during a briefing for Congressional staffers in August that most scientists believe the climate is simply recovering from the “Little Ice Age,” which lasted 450 years and ended only 150 years ago. And Dr. Richard S. Lindzen of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of America’s most vocal critics of global warming projections. He simply does not believe that human activity is seriously altering the atmosphere.
In other words, the hypothesis that human activity will result in catastrophic disruptions to the earth’s climate is an unproven theory without a scientific basis — and one that has many learned critics supplying facts on a sound scientific basis. So the question becomes, what action is the Clinton Administration willing to take, given that it is acting on an unproven theory, and what will be the consequences to the American people?
The Kyoto Protocol
What we have recently seen is Vice President Gore’s use of the power of government to drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels. Under the Protocol, a United Nations treaty that he helped to negotiate, the U.S. would be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 93 percent of the 1990 level. To achieve Kyoto’s cuts, Americans would be forced to cut their energy consumption by about 30 percent. This would mean that Georgians will be forced to pay about 65 cents more for each gallon of gasoline, and consumer costs for residential electricity and natural gas will more than double. Clearly, the treaty is unfair and if enacted, it will devastate the American economy.
Another major weakness in the Protocol is that it applies only to a handful of developed nations, leaving two-thirds of the world — including nations with rapidly growing economies such as China, Mexico and India — with no limits whatsoever on greenhouse gas emissions. The unfairness has led to bipartisan opposition. Rep. John Dingle, D-Mich., for instance, opposes the treaty. Labor Union officials, such as pulp and paperwork union representative Melvin Dixon of Dixons Mills, Alabama, have joined with business and farm leaders in testifying before recent congressional committees against Kyoto’s impact on the economy. Studies conducted by two of the nation’s leading economic research firms have tallied the potential toll of the Kyoto Protocol, both nationally and in Georgia:
WEFA, Inc., the research organization formerly associated with the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and CONSAD Research Corp. have calculated similar scenarios, based on Kyoto’s requirements for cutbacks in greenhouse gas emissions. Virtually all consumer costs would soar. WEFA estimates that the Protocol will cost the average Georgia family of four $1,708 in the year 2012. While facing these higher costs, incomes would shrink by an aggregate $2,728 per family.
In short, the CONSAD and WEFA studies recognized that you can’t “get something for nothing.” These studies estimate that the accord’s impact on Georgia alone would:
• Cost 45,000 jobs within the next five years.
• Cost 80,000 jobs in 2012 – 21,000 in the manufacturing sector alone.
• Reduce Georgia’s gross domestic product by $7 billion in 2012.
• Increase Georgia’s unemployment rate to 5.5 percent.
• Cost $2.7 billion in lost tax revenues.
• Increase energy prices more than 50 percent, medical services 14 percent, food prices 11 percent and housing prices 21 percent.
Clearly, the potential for such debilitating economic harm should lead to an open and vigorous debate about sound political options, based on sound science, and the inequitable sacrifices that Kyoto would demand of Americans.
Interestingly enough, in his book Earth in the Balance, Vice President Gore warned against trusting political leaders who say that making changes to our society, like the ones he is advocating and will be required under the Kyoto Protocol, will be easy. In the book he says, “Minor shifts in policy, marginal adjustments in ongoing programs, moderate improvements in laws and regulations, rhetoric offered in lieu of genuine change — these are all forms of appeasement, designed to satisfy the public’s desire to believe that sacrifice, struggle, and a wrenching transformation of society will not be necessary.”
In contrast to those words, Vice President Gore and other supporters of the Kyoto Protocol would have us believe that complying with these new mandates will be easy. For example, the President’s Council of Economic Advisors predicted earlier this year that meeting the goals of the Kyoto Protocol would cost the average household $70 to $110 a year for energy. These figures are a far cry from the forecasts by WEFA, reflecting a 103 percent increase for delivered natural gas and 81 percent increase for electricity. Yet advocates of Kyoto are asking Georgians to comply with an international treaty that applies only to the U.S. and a handful of other countries and that scientists such as Sallie Baliunas and Richard S. Lindzen do not even believe has a scientific basis.
Surely, this nation will reach a point beyond the activist propaganda and the drumbeat of administration news releases and agree that we must base sound policy on sound science. With today’s near religious devotion by some people to the extreme beliefs of the environmental movement, it is imperative that our leaders focus on the science.
More than 60 years ago, the philosopher and political theorist Benjamin Gruenberg said, “The chief obstacles to science have always been fixed ideas and vested interests. Reliance upon a body of doctrines that rationalizes an institution makes investigation a source of danger — to the institution. Orthodoxies of all sorts, whether religious or political, whether moralistic or intellectualistic, are inimical to the spirit of inquiry.”
These words ring true today. Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, recounts a meeting this fall in which Dirk Forrister, head of the White House Office of Global Climate Change, “blew up” when confronted by scientific arguments that global warming is little or no problem.
Faced with the argument by Tom Wigley of the National Science Foundation that even if every nation met its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, planetary cooling would be an undetectable 0.07 degrees Celsius by 2050, Forrister dismissed it as “frivolous.” Michaels later summed up the new White House policy: “Science is ‘frivolous,’ to be dismissed quite casually when it turns out to be inconvenient.”
Instead of attacking legitimate scientific inquiry as “frivolous,” advocates of the global warming theory should ground their arguments in science, not political rhetoric. Before being asked to make enormous economic and personal sacrifices, Americans must be allowed to hear all sides — not just the side of the global warming true believers — and our leaders must subject the scientific claims to rigorous tests of verifiability.
Randy Eminger is Southern Vice President at the Center for Energy and Economic Development. The Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED) is a national, nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of low-cost, reliable, environmentally compatible, long-term coal-fired electricity generation in America.