Next week, congress begins debating the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. The goal of this legislation is to drastically reduce U.S. emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere because of its purported effect on global climate.
I have been intensively studying global warming for over a year – reading up on the science, politics and economics of this issue. Acutely aware of my biases, I have made a concerted effort to review multiple points of view, matching point and counterpoint on many aspects of the debate. There are excellent websites by leading climatologists which explain and analyze a variety of topics. In regards to the science, there seems to be well-intentioned, honest proponents with a wide spectrum of views.
What has become clear to me, however, is that too much of the science is hopelessly tangled with politics. The strongest proponents of anthropogenic, catastrophic, CO2-induced climate change (now there’s a mouthful!) are also the strongest proponents for government-imposed plans which reduce and ration energy use. The Lieberman –Warner bill is one of those plans.
The questions surrounding climate change involve both science and politics. Although these disciplines both require the use of facts and logic, the set of facts and the flow of arguments appropriate to each are not identical. These two aspects of the problem must be separated out in order to adequately analyze the quality of evidence presented and the logic of their conclusions.
I can see four main questions to be addressed, each with its own set of debatable data and arguments:
1) Is the global temperature rising?
2) Is there a measurable anthropogenic effect on global climate over and above natural variance?
3) Will we be worse off in a warmer world?
4) What is the best way for humans to respond to a change in climate?
An affirmative answer to questions 1 and 2 does not automatically lead to an affirmative answer in question 3. And, regardless of how you answer the first two questions, the fourth is completely unrelated!
The first two questions are appropriately addressed through scientific study, with all the attendant guides as to what constitutes adequate evidence for drawing conclusions about cause and effect. Questions 3 and 4, however, take us away from matters of the physical sciences into the realm of values and politics: What constitutes a better world? And, who gets to decide?
Regardless of whether you think the economy should be directed by the government or left to free individuals, it is intellectually dishonest to use climate science to push a political agenda. If what is desired is to use government force to prevent humans from using natural resources for their own purposes, that case needs to be made straight up. The facts of climate change, whatever they truly are, do not mandate a specific political action.
From my understanding of what conditions lead to improved human well-being, even if anthropogenic climate change is occurring, the best response is not forced reduction of energy expenditure. For a multitude of reasons, I see the measures proposed by the Lieberman-Warner bill as disastrous.
Life requires energy. Prosperity requires lots of energy. Our ability to respond to the challenges of nature, including those which humans cause themselves, are greatly enhanced by increasing our access to usable resources. As devastating as Katrina was to New Orleans, the loss of life and property there pales in comparison to the effects of the tsunamis and earthquakes in Asia. A significant contribution to the difference was the degree of material wealth available to the victims at the time of the disasters.
Changes in climate can be dealt with by means of adaptation and/or active mitigation. Our ability to respond to changes is enhanced by greater use of energy in order to further develop and exploit natural resources. To reduce energy and block resource development is to enshrine poverty. And that is a separate issue from whether or not the world is getting warmer.
Whether or not you agree with my conclusions, I think the discussions will be much more fruitful if we can keep the politics out of the science, and vise versa.