The Hot Air of Climate Change, Part 6

What would the cost be to make changes, and would that cost exceed the cost of dealing with the consequences of not making them?

This is a multi-part series examining the current debate over "global warming", also known as "climate change".

Ice caps moving.  Shorelines flooding.  Spreading deserts; ruined crops; constant hurricanes and extreme weather.

A movie plot?  Yes, that too; but more relevantly, it's what, we are told, is in our immediate future if we do not repent of our wicked, Earth-trashing ways, and stop burning fossil fuels for energy.

When being told, "The sky is falling!" it's wise to try to find out if it actually is; and we've explored that in previous articles in this series.  But even if the sky were falling, we should not immediately run around in circles.  There's a far more productive and relevant question, which is:

6. What would the cost be to make changes, and would that cost exceed the cost of dealing with the consequences of not making the change?

There's an inherent problem with scaremongering: If you say that a problem is small, people tend to ignore it.  So it's natural to hype up the severity of the issue; and we see that happening with some of the ludicrous allegations surrounding "global warming."  Al Gore's notorious hypeumentary is the best-known example of this, with 9 lies so egregious that a British court - no bastion of Fox News aficionados - ruled that it was too inaccurate to be shown to schoolchildren without extensive disclaimers.

The hype certainly does get people's attention.  The trouble is, when presented with a disaster of such (quite literally) incredible magnitude, the human tendency is to simply throw up our hands and say, "Phooey! Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."  Which is not at all the response that Al's pals are looking for, though it doesn't prevent him from doing it himself.

No, as the High Court found, the ocean levels are not going to rise by 20 feet by 2100.  According to the UN's International Panel on Climate Change, it's more like a single foot, or maybe 18 inches.  Now, if you happen to be Holland or New Orleans, this is not good news.  But most of the world is much more than one cinderblock higher than the pounding surf.

First, let's take a look at what it would cost to try to stop carbon dioxide emissions from human technology.  Bear in mind that the reason these exist, is because carbon dioxide emissions are the necessary result of all the power generation that modern lives require.  Transportation, electricity, food production - all these things run on fossil fuels, and emit carbon by the ton.  So shutting them down, is tantamount to shutting down the modern world.

As such, we might expect the bill to be unfathomably immense, and indeed it is.  The Cato Institute calculates that, to reduce global warming by a single degree, would take 12% of the entire world's gross product!  Not 12% of growth, mind you - 12% of the total.  For one single degree.  God forbid that global warming should be projected to be more than 8-1/2 degrees - oh, wait a minute...

Even the most rabid environmentalist can clearly see that there is no possible way that a democracy is going to knowingly sign up for a project that will, intentionally, destroy its economy.  The American Dream is to become richer, not poorer, and we don't much like things that get in the way of that.  Sure, environmental guilt can lead to some changes around the edges, but once you start talking about total, fundamental replacement of our comfortable way of life, it simply isn't going to happen.

So the cost of getting rid of greenhouse gas emissions to the extent that, the global warming activists say, will stabilize the world's temperature, is a complete nonstarter.  There's really no purpose in further debating it, since barring a global dictatorship by Al Gore, it's not in the cards unless they lie about it.

What other alternatives are there?  Well, suppose that the IPCC predictions come true, and world sea levels rise by a foot or two.  There are quite a lot of low-lying cities which have already done extensive research into how to deal with the problem.  Some of them are plans only, such as Venice; others like London's Thames Barrier are in full operation, protecting one of the world's greatest cities from storm surges and high tides.

The Thames Barrier cost half a billion dollars, which sounds an awful lot, until you compare it to world GNP at the time: about $32 trillion.  The Thames Barrier cost .002% of global GDP - compare this to the cost of 12% for lowering the temperature by one degree through carbon-emissions reduction.  That's an awful lot of flood barriers.

But we are dwelling only on the potential downside of global warming; let's not forget the upside.  Upside? Sure!  In his excellent book Cool It, Dr. Bjorn Lomborg points out:

For Europe as a whole, about 200,000 people die from excess heat each year. However, about 1.5 million Europeans die annually from excess cold. That is more than seven times the total number of heat deaths. Just in the past decade, Europe has lost about 15 million people to the cold, more than 400 times the iconic heat deaths from 2003. That we so easily neglect these deaths and so easily embrace those caused by global warming tells us of a breakdown in our sense of proportion.

If global temperature is getting warmer, it follows that fewer people will die from the cold; and, it would appear, there will be lots more saved from death by freezing than needlessly roasted.  Russian President Vladimir Putin, master of the previously frozen wastes of Siberia, is well aware of this; he has pointed out that global warming would be helpful to his country, and has aggressively moved to claim the North Pole with all its undersea mineral wealth.

So the costs of attempting to reduce carbon emissions enough to make a difference are beyond astronomical; whereas the costs of just adapting to what may come are really quite manageable, and to a large degree canceled out by benefits of the change.  This being the case, it would be the height of insanity to intentionally throw a huge monkey wrench into the global economy.

But the cost would not simply be in dollars and in personal comfort.  It's long been known that richer societies have longer life expectancy, and conversely, that citizens in poorer countries have shorter lives.  By throwing us all back to the stone age, environmentalists are implicitly condemning billions, not merely to poverty, but to an early death.  The few thousands who may suffer heatstroke pale in comparison.

As we've seen, the climate change alarmists are dishonest through and through.

Global warming itself is far from proven, and in fact is not provable with existing technology and research; the temperature changes we see are well within the limits of known natural historical cycles; there are known influences external to the Earth itself, namely the Sun, which are experiencing temperature changes.

Human activities are a drop in the bucket in comparison to geological and other natural processes.  Proposed legislation is useless at best, and terrifically destructive at worst; and, the costs of adapting to the likely changes, even if global warming should turn out to come as predicted, are trivial in comparison to trying to prevent it.

Government is always seeking to manufacture a new crisis, allowing it to extend its power into new areas of American life.  The natural desire of bureaucracy is growth; and what better way than by generating countless new regulations?  And an environmental crisis is the perfect excuse: should it never arrive, it can be claimed that disaster was averted by prompt government action; and if the end does come, it won't have mattered anyway.

Don't let the American Dream be sacrificed on a green altar, no matter what celebrities and politicians claim.

But how is it possible for such an irrational and destructive belief - really, reaching to the level of a faith-based religion - to have reached such heights of strength and power?

To be continued...

Kermit Frosch is a guest writer for  Read other articles by Kermit Frosch or other articles on Environment.
Reader Comments
Now this part is making sense: Learning to cope with 'climate change'. The sky won't be falling on us but unless there's some catastrophic change('great and sudden',not necessarily disastrous) we will adapt to it - or earn the biggest Darwin Award ever. Many government institutions may find that hard to do though. An inconvenient truth.
January 10, 2008 12:19 PM
The story of human civilization is, by definition, the story of how human beings have adapted to the world as it is, and changed it to what we wish it to be, for our own betterment and comfort. Climates change every day, and always have; we always deal with it, making lemonade out of lemons where necessary. Nothing whatsoever is going to happen to bring on the Apocalypse; at most, there will be a few minor (in the grand scheme of things) adjustments and adaptations. Actually, Lomborg's research and writings would seem to indicate that it's a good thing. We just have to prevent the idiot politicians from destroying the economy in the meanwhile...
January 10, 2008 2:32 PM
Yes, i agree with all of this. My wife and I frequently discuss a movie we saw recently that talked about the world being better off slightly warmer and with slightly higher water levels. The point of the manufacturer was that the current cycle upwards is one of the best, most productive, parts of the 100-million-year up stroke when it comes to weather.
January 10, 2008 5:16 PM
Being "being better off" how? Drivel
January 10, 2008 5:42 PM
Glad you asked, T_l, if that is your real name. They defined better through productivity - agriculture mainly. Planets and animals will flourish better at warmer temperatures.
January 10, 2008 9:07 PM
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