Climate change 101

Sadly, even 17 years of stable temperatures haven’t cooled the Left’s faith in wildly alarmist climate predictions, or their illogical campaign to demonize low-cost energy and anyone who doesn’t support their policy agenda.

If only more people could see and understand how driving up energy costs truly harms the poorest among us and around the world the most.

John Christy
John Christy

In 2007 the Center hosted respected climate scientist John Christy for a very eye-opening lunch forum on climate change and he shared with us many points routinely absent from the public debate.  The audio is available here.

Basic Climate Science

Simply put, substantial scientific evidence exists that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has exaggerated the amount of warming likely to occur, and that any warming that does occur is likely to be modest and cause no net harm to the environment or human well-being.

Warming, cooling, and change are natural features of climate.  Climate is always changing: Global temperatures are rising or falling, sea levels are rising or falling, and glaciers are retreating or advancing.

Since 1875 global surface temperatures declined for 40 years, then rose for 30 years, then declined for 30 years, then rose for 20 years.  From 1997-2014 there was no net warming despite adding about one-third of all human-related CO2 emissions released since the Industrial Revolution.  The warmest year in the instrument record (going back to about 1900) is 2015, in large part because of El Nino.

Sea level has been rising since 1850, as the earth recovers from the Little Ice Age, at a rate of 1-2 mm per year.

Is CO2 Causing Temperatures To Rise?

It’s tough to separate out human activity from natural variability and other causes, but most scientists believe increased CO2 levels play a part in the gradual warming we have experienced.  CO2 is a trace gas (only .04% of the atmosphere) and has been steadily rising since 1940 thanks to increasing industrialization and the world’s use of coal, oil, and natural gas.

But temperature changes since 1910 have not correlated with the rise of CO2, and historical data show CO2 levels lagging temperature changes, not leading them.  And some studies suggest solar activity correlates much better with global temperatures.

Failed Computer Models

Model simulations predict that increased CO2 should lead to higher temperatures, but nearly all the models have significantly overestimated observed temperatures.

The crux of the matter is something called “climate sensitivity.”  Most models assume a high sensitivity in which warming temperatures create positive feedback, which leads to even more warming.  This is how the alarmists reach their predictions of “tipping point” disaster scenarios.  However, other scientists are finding that during periods of warming, clouds step up their cooling effect, a negative feedback that is consistent with a low sensitivity to CO2.

The bottom line is that our climate is a very complex system, influenced by many little-understood mechanisms and dynamics involving the sun, clouds, oceans, etc.

Unreported Benefits of CO2

CO2 is hardly a pollutant.  The opposite is true: It’s a raw material that makes life possible for both plants and animals.  As CO2 has increased slightly in the atmosphere, plants have been growing faster, using less water, and demonstrating more resistance to drought.  Increasing CO2 in the atmosphere “greens” the planet and helps feed the growing human population.

Mild Warming is Good for the World!

British scientist Matt Ridley recently wrote about a fundamentally important point that very few have heard about: The consensus of expert opinion is that warming does more good than harm.  Imagine that!  Why have we not heard about this?

One study calculated that global warming increased global economic output by 1.4% over the past century.  This improvement in human welfare, as Ridley states, “means the difference between survival and starvation” for some people.  Other benefits include fewer winter deaths (cold kills far more than heat waves), lower energy costs, better agricultural yields, fewer droughts, and richer biodiversity.

Droughts, Floods, and Storms

The death rate from bad weather has dropped by 98% since 1920 because greater wealth has allowed for greater protection.  The IPCC report cautioned that warming would expose some people to higher “water stress.”  Yet the study they cited found that even higher numbers of people would be at reduced risk of “water stress,” a finding which they conveniently omitted.

The Harm Climate Policy is Doing

Here is Ridley’s excellent summary of the harm governments are causing:

Building wind turbines, growing biofuels and substituting wood for coal in power stations – all policies designed explicitly to fight climate change – have had negligible effects on CO2 emissions.  But they have driven people into fuel poverty, made industries uncompetitive, driven up food prices, accelerated the destruction of forests, killed rare birds of prey, and divided communities.

Lessons from the 1970s Energy Crisis

Daniel Yergin, one of the world’s leading energy experts, recently wrote that gas lines were the “largely self-inflicted result of government interference in markets with price controls and supply allocation.”  What solved the natural gas shortages wasn’t more controls but their elimination (which led to an oversupply).  The great lesson is that “markets and price signals can work very efficiently, and surprisingly swiftly, even in a crisis, if they are allowed to.”

How to Deal with Climate Uncertainty

A Wall Street Journal editorial had it exactly right:

The best insurance against adverse climate risks is robust economic growth.  The wealthier the world is in 50 or 100 years, the more resources and technology it will have to cope if the worst predictions come true.  But that requires free-market, pro-growth policies that are the opposite of the statist fixes pushed by the climate alarmists.

Center’s Steadfast Advocacy for Affordable Energy

Especially thanks to the brilliant work of my colleague Peter Nelson, we continue, though op-eds, reports, and testimony, to fight against misguided regulations, mandates, and legislation that increase energy costs and drive away Minnesota jobs.

In 2013, for example, Peter’s report, Energy Mandates Will Eliminate Minnesota Jobs, offered the only credible estimates of how many jobs would be lost due to adding more energy mandates.  Another report demonstrated how a proposed solar mandate would drive up electricity rates.

Someday our children and grandchildren will wonder how mild 20th Century warming was able to trigger the spending of hundreds of billions of dollars on ineffective energy policies, often without measurable results.

For our part, American Experiment will continue making the case that economic growth and expanded prosperity are the surest path to lifting the world’s poor and protecting the environment.

Peter Zeller is Director of Operations at Center of the American Experiment.