Thursday, February 23, 2006

Climate change: bad science, bad policy

My climatology professors of the early 1970's lectured us on the certainty that our 30 year global cooling trend was going to plunge us into another ice age. The culprit? Industrial emissions, of course.

The debate over what to do about global warming draws together science, politics, economics, and ideologies in an unprecedented mix. Let's follow the chain of assumptions that the Kyoto protocol hangs from: if the earth's atmosphere is warming and if the warming is unusual and if the main cause of that unusual warming is industrial CO2 emissions, and if nothing is going to happen that would offset this warming and if a warmer atmosphere is bad for the planet, then we should try to do the things that are prescribed in the Kyoto protocol.

Would that help? Even the proponents of the Kyoto protocol admit that its full implementation would make no noticeable difference to global temperatures over the balance of this century. Kyoto won't work, by the admission of its own authors.

Each of the links in the chain of assumptions that I have listed above has been thoughtfully challenged in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Astute policy makers will recognize that they are being asked to commit real resources to a possible problem, with no promise of any real benefit. And complying with the Kyoto Accord could actually degrade the global environment if industrial production shifts to exempt countries like China.

I work for a company that might well benefit from legislation forcing a reduction in CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, I would prefer that our resources as a society be directed towards real environmental and health problems, not to expensive symbolic gestures. For example, problems with unhealthy drinking water are killing people by the thousands in developing countries, while I have yet to read of a single death caused by CO2-driven climate change. But which one gets the headlines and the bulk of the research funding?

Let a few scientists debate and study for as long as it takes to prove the truth about global warming, while the rest should turn to more pressing issues. Kyoto is a token response to a comparatively low-priority threat. It deserves no more than token resources and attention.

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