Don't Look to Government to Cool the Planet

Whatever you think of the global warming situation, we have good reason — intellectually as well as historically — to believe that government cannot be counted on to provide the solution.

Recently on 20/20, I said “give me a break” to Al Gore for claiming that the global-warming debate is over and suggesting that all dissenters were in it for the money. I interviewed independent scientists who say Gore is wrong.

Some people were relieved to finally hear the other side: “Thank you, thank you, thank you for your report on climate change. ... I’m sick of hearing ‘the debate’s over’ and writing anyone who differs off as a nut. This report showed the true nature of the debate and true lack of consensus, something you can’t get anywhere else.”

Others were just mad: “Your 20/20 report on Global Warning made me sick. ... Your sarcastic ridiculing of Al Gore … I have lost all respect for you and your reporting.”

Yes, the globe has warmed, but whether severe warming is imminent and whether human beings are causing it in large degree are empirical questions that can’t be answered ideologically.

The media may scream that “the science is in” and the “debate is over,” but in fact it continues vigorously, with credentialed climate scientists on both side of the divide. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may present a “consensus view of scientists,” but the “consensus” is not without dissent.

“Consensus is the stuff of politics, not science,” says Paul Reiter of the Pasteur Institute.

The scientific process ought to be left to play itself out with as little political bias as possible. Politically influenced research is poison to science.

Part of the problem is the IPCC itself. Reiter points out, “It’s the inter-governmental panel on climate change. It’s governments who nominate people. It’s inherently political. Many of the scientists are on the IPCC because they view global warming as a problem that needs to be fixed. They have a vested interest.”

Phillip Stott, professor of biogeography at the University of London, says that the global warming debate has become the new “grand narrative” of the environmental movement. “It’s something for people to get excited about and protest. It’s more about emotion than science.” While the scientists thrash things out, what are the rest of us to do?

There are good reasons to begin with a presumption against government action. As coercive monopolies that spend other people’s money taken by force, governments are uniquely unqualified to solve problems. They are riddled by ignorance, perverse incentives, incompetence and self-serving.

The synthetic-fuels program during the Carter years consumed billions of dollars and was finally disbanded as a failure. The push for ethanol today is more driven by special interests than good sense — it’s boosting food prices while producing a fuel of dubious environmental quality.

Even if the climate really needs cooling down, government can’t be counted on to accomplish that. Advocates of carbon taxes and emissions trading talk about reducing CO2, but they promise no more than a minuscule reduction in temperature. Temperature reduction is supposed to be the objective.

Dr. John Christy, Professor and Director of the Earth System Science Center at University of Alabama-Huntsville
In fact, even drastic plans to cut the use of carbon-based energy would make only a negligible difference.

As John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and a member of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, wrote last week in The Wall Street Journal:

“Suppose you are very serious about making a dent in carbon emissions and could replace about 10 percent of the world’s energy sources with non-CO2-emitting nuclear power by 2020 — roughly equivalent to halving U.S. emissions.

“Based on IPCC-like projections, the required 1,000 new nuclear power plants would slow the warming by about 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per century. It’s a dent.”

I agree with Stott, who says, “The right approach to climate change is adaptation — and the way to do that is to have strong economies.”

We will have a strong economy if we don’t give up our freedom and our money to fulfill the grand schemes of big-government alarmists.

Next week: How the private sector could deal with a global-warming problem.

John Stossel is co-anchor of ABC News’ “20/20” and the author of Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media (January 2005) as well as Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel — Why Everything You Know Is Wrong (May 2007), which is now available in paperback.

1 comment from readers  

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The problem is real, the cause is debatable. Our current warming trends may be part of a natural climate cycle. However our society, with individuals often boastful of their ability to "put their heads down" and charge forward, often damning the consequences in the name of progress, may also be a contributing factor.

As a species we owe much of our success to an ability to operate despite a lingering cloud of ignorance. If humanity had stopped to consider the full environmental impact of manufacturing plastic, for instance, what would I be typing on right now?

The same goes for transportation, free trade, communications, and so many others of our industries. We should not be forced to become apologists for the global marketplace. However, it is in everyone's long term interest if we can find a way to increase efficiency. Power consumption is a small but significant part of that process. It is not a time to bull through the issues. The reality is that many of the current solutions appear to be less efficient than our standard excesses. And this can be attributed to the altruistic concept of sacrifice.

Some believe that higher costs and diminished food supply is an acceptable sacrifice for increased fuel efficiency, even though the amount of traditional fuels used to create fuels such as ethanol is so great as to mitigate the benefits of producing the "cleaner" fuel in the first place. Obviously, there is always some waste in the creation of new technologies, but if it calls for sacrifice it can not be right.

A wise person once said to me, "Its not sacrifice if it is worth while." But it is also not worth while if it costs us more than we can afford to give. When government begins making laws based on unsubstantiated "facts" they usually end up making things worse. Fuel efficiency is a real marketplace demand, and the free market will sort it all out.

I agree with Mr. Stossel that dissenters to the "global warming-crisis" are not "in it for the money". The masses have chosen their ideology, and have indicated their willingness to open their pocketbooks for a good solution. The money IS IN fuel efficiency innovation. In a free capitalist society people don't dissent out of greed, but rather out of fear and a lack of vision. Say what you will about collectivism in philosophy, but in actions the masses lead the market like a pack of dogs chasing a rabbit. Feed the market and you win.
To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.