Putting an End to Global Warming Alarmism

Putting an End to Global Warming Alarmism
January 8, 2009

Joseph Bast

Joseph L. Bast c.v. Joseph Bast is president and CEO of The Heartland Institute, a 29-year-old... (read full bio)

Global warming is the most important environmental issue of our time. If those who are sounding the alarm about a possible climate catastrophe are right, then governments must raise energy costs directly, with taxes, or indirectly, with mandates and subsidies, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hundreds of billions of dollars a year in wealth or economic activity will be sucked up and redistributed by governments.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions even modestly is estimated to cost the average household in the U.S. approximately $3,372 per year and would destroy 2.4 million jobs. Electricity prices would double, and manufacturers would move their factories to places such as China and India that have cheaper energy and fewer environmental regulations.

If global warming is indeed a crisis, billions of dollars taken from taxpayers will flow into the coffers of radical environmental groups, giving them the resources and stature to implement other parts of their anti-technology, anti-business agenda. None of that money will go to actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This explains the paradox that even though the scientific community is deeply divided over the causes and consequences of global warming, every single environmental advocacy group in the U.S. (and probably the world) believes it is a crisis.

Global Warming Is Not a Crisis

But global warming is not, in fact, a crisis. Here’s how we know this:

  • Since 2007, more than 31,072 American scientists, including 9,021 with Ph.D.s, have signed a petition that says, in part, “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.”
  • A 2003 international survey of climate scientists (with 530 responding) found only 9.4 percent “strongly agreed” and 25.3 percent “agreed” with the statement “climate change is mostly the result of anthropogenic causes.” Some 10.2 percent “strongly disagreed.”
  • A 2006 survey of scientists in the U.S. found 41 percent disagreed that the planet’s recent warmth “can be, in large part, attributed to human activity,” and 71 percent disagreed that recent hurricane activity is significantly attributable to human activity.
  • A recent review of 1,117 abstracts of scientific journal articles on “global climate change” found only 13 (1 percent) explicitly endorse the “consensus view” while 34 reject or cast doubt on the view that human activity has been the main driver of warming over the past 50 years.

The mainstream of the scientific community, in other words, does not believe global warming is a crisis.

The Public Is Skeptical

The mainstream media has spared no expense in hyping the view that global warming is a crisis. Television stations broadcast endless documentaries alleging that global warming is causing everything from the disappearance of butterflies, frogs, and polar bears to the collapse of a bridge in Minnesota. Newspapers run “news” stories that are barely re-written news releases from Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and other environmental advocacy groups.

Despite this media barrage, most people haven’t been fooled into believing global warming is a crisis. Fewer than half (47 percent) of Americans polled by the Pew Research Center in 2008 said they believe humans are causing global warming, and a declining number even believe the Earth is experiencing a warming trend.

Another poll conducted in 2008 of 12,000 people in 11 countries, commissioned by the financial institution HSBC and environmental advocacy groups, found fewer than half of those surveyed said they were prepared to make personal lifestyle changes to reduce carbon emissions, down from 58 percent last year; only 37 percent said they were willing to spend “extra time” on the effort, an eight-point drop; and only one in five respondents--or 20 percent--said they’d spend extra money to reduce climate change. That’s down from 28 percent a year ago.

Except for radical environmentalists--who always have been a small minority of the general public and even a minority within the environmental movement--most people don’t “ believe” in global warming. They believe--and rightly so--that the science is still undecided and government action is unnecessary.

But Politicians Want to Act

Unfortunately, politicians respond to the loudest and best-funded interest groups, not to the voices of scientists or the average Joe. So they are in a tizzy about “doing something” to “stop global warming.” President-elect Barack Obama, for example, recently proclaimed:

“Few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear. Sea levels are rising. Coastlines are shrinking. We’ve seen record drought, spreading famine, and storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season. Climate change and our dependence on foreign oil, if left unaddressed, will continue to weaken our economy and threaten our national security.”

There is not a single statement in this brief passage that is true. Lord Christopher Monckton, a British climate skeptic, wrote recently that “on all measures, there has been no increase in global mean surface temperatures since 1995; and, according to the University of Alabama at Huntsville, near-surface temperatures in 2008 will be lower than in 1980, 28 years ago, the first complete year of satellite observations. On all measures, global temperatures have been falling for seven full years since late 2001.”

Monckton goes on, in a paper published by the American Thinker on November 26, to dispute, point by point, each of Obama’s claims about sea levels, coastlines, drought, famine, and storms. None of Monckton’s points is original: The rebuttals have appeared many times in the scientific literature and even occasionally in the mainstream media. One of the most persuasive compilations of this literature is S. Fred Singer’s Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate, which The Heartland Institute published earlier this year.

Politicians should realize the public doesn’t want global warming legislation. Last June, when the 500-page Climate Security Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate, even Democrats fled from the massive costs and bureaucracy it would have entailed. As environmentalists Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger reported at the time, “Democratic leaders finally killed the debate to avert an embarrassing defeat, but by then they had handed Republicans a powerful political club. Republicans have been bludgeoning Democrats with it ever since.”

What Should Be Done?

If global warming is not a crisis, what should policymakers do about it? The answer, obviously, is “nothing.” This is not a problem that needs to be solved. The case should be marked “closed” and policymakers should move on to other, more important, issues.

Should we reduce emissions “just in case”? Danish environmental expert Björn Lomborg, among many others, demolishes this argument. He points out that “even if every industrialised country, including the United States, had accepted the [Kyoto] Protocol, and everyone had lived up to its requirements for the entire century, it would have had virtually no impact, even a hundred years from now. It would reduce the global temperature increase by an immeasurable 0.15ºC by the year 2100.” That empty gesture would have cost taxpayers and consumers trillions of dollars.

It is not politically correct simply to dismiss global warming as a “scam.” Those who care more about being popular than right--including, alas, the just-quoted Björn Lomborg--therefore call for “dramatically increasing the funding into energy research and development” so that new low-carbon technology will become available faster. How silly this is.

Private industry spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year on research and development on energy efficiency and alternatives to conventional fossil fuels. Governments spend tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars subsidizing solar, wind, and “clean coal” research and commercialization. Foundations offer prizes worth tens of millions of dollars to inventors and entrepreneurs who can reduce our “carbon footprint.”

Will more spending by governments make any difference? What is the government’s record of encouraging innovation and market successes? How much would be enough? For how many more years?

Advocates of more spending on energy research and development technology have no answers to these questions, or at least no answers that support their case. It’s all waste at best and fraud at worst. Their appeals should be rejected, firmly and completely.

It’s time to put an end to global warming alarmism.


Joseph Bast (jbast@heartland.org) is president of The Heartland Institute.

Joseph Bast

Joseph L. Bast c.v. Joseph Bast is president and CEO of The Heartland Institute, a 29-year-old... (read full bio)