Let’s Be Careful About Global Warming

Commentary, Climate, Peter Holle

An international poll conducted last fall by Environics, a Toronto-based survey company, exposed a high level of public confusion about the issue of global warming and the consequences of government action to contain the phenomenon.

The central planning faction of the environmental lobby and its media allies have successfully convinced people around the world that global warming is a real threat. In Canada, 61% of the public thinks that governments should “act now to reduce human impact on the world’s climate.” Even more alarming is the steady growth of the belief that such action will not cause economic harm.

The danger in this triumph of alarmist science is that politicians read the tea leaves and pass all sorts of noxious laws to capture the approval of their deluded constituents. Canada moved in this direction at the December “summit” in Kyoto, where we agreed to reduce emissions of so-called greenhouse gases by 6% from 1990 levels. That target must be met by the year 2012. Forecasters predict that the true level of cuts will range from 20 to 30 percent, given that economic expansion over the 22-year spread will make the goal less attainable.

What will we have to pay? The Conference Board of Canada estimates that compliance through emission limits, trade sanctions and taxes will cost the Canadian economy somewhere between $5.4 billion and $30 billion by the year 2010. Another simulation by Environment Canada suggested that a 50 percent hike in energy prices would be required. That would jack the total up to $150 billion and lower living standards in Canada substantially. In other words, nobody will escape the burden.

Before such drastic action is taken, shouldn’t we make sure that the threat of global warming is real? Only in 32 years of the 20th century has any climate warming been remarked. During 64 of those years, the world cooled down. Land-surface records over the last decade indicate no warming at all, and weather satellites show a cooling of 0.13 degrees since 1979.

Before we hobble our economic performance with unnecessary burdens based on bad science, it might be useful to review two other recent environmental scares and how they turned out.

First, in 1972, the Club of Rome predicted a rapid and complete depletion of global oil reserves. The Canadian government introduced the National Energy Policy, which hammered Alberta and Saskatchewan’s economies with tens of billions of dollars of losses and stuck the rest of us with large, seemingly permanent tax increases. By 1990, unexploited world oil reserves stood at 900 billion barrels, not including hundreds of billions of barrels in tar shales.

Second, an even bigger boner was the theory that we would soon all starve to death as we ran out of food. Starting in the 1960s, exponents of the “population bomb” steadily spread the myth that world food resources would soon be exhausted. One 1980 study predicted food price increases of 115 percent by the year 2000. Zero Population Growth became the target and western countries expanded birth control programs at home and abroad. Since 1961, the world’s population has indeed almost doubled, but food production more than doubled and world prices after inflation have fallen more than 40 percent.

You get the drift. The junk science pushed by panicky “sky is falling” environmentalists can have expensive consequences especially when they have the effect of stampeding innocent politicians into bad policies.

Let’s not rush into anything based on naïve and unproven beliefs.