Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cap and Trade: All Tricks and No Treats (Part 1 of 3)

Before the August Recess, the House of Representatives passed Cap and Trade legislation intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The Senate will be considering the Cap and Trade bill after the recess. The popular media message and political rhetoric is that human sources of carbon dioxide emissions are the cause of projected global warming that will take place sometime over the next 100 years.

Cap and Trade is an often used and sometimes effective mechanism to reduce the amount of pollutants being released into our environment. The principle is fairly simple. Put a cap, an upper limit, on the amount of the pollutant that can be released, issue credits to those who reduce emissions, allow those credits to be traded to industries that increase emissions, all the while keeping total emissions below the established cap. The trading of credits provides a market mechanism and an incentive to reduce emissions.

The underlying and unspoken question that every American should be asking about global warming is, “Why do I care if the average temperature of the earth rises a few degrees Celsius over the next 100 years?” Now, before you dismiss me as some sort of hedonist, a holocaust denier, or a minion of the oil, gas or coal industry, bear with me while I try to explain a few things that may change your answer to this important question. And don’t dismiss me with the cliché “Scientists say it is so, therefore it is.” The science of climate change is far from conclusive. The division between scientists who believe humans are the reason the temperature is rising versus natural climate change is about an even split contrary to what environmentalists and many in the media would have you believe.

The issue of global warming has been hyped by the media and environmental alarmists. Polling data now indicates that the fear mongering on climate change has led many children in America to believe that the earth may become a dead planet within their life time.

One example of this hyperbole and a gross injustice is calling carbon dioxide a “pollutant.” If this column causes you to gasp in horror or yell hallelujah, then you are emitting carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is an essential compound for the existence of life on earth, just as much as oxygen and water. Since the industrial revolution and the advent of burning coal, oil and gas, man has contributed significant amounts of additional carbon dioxide to our atmosphere. This leads us to the number one reason why some people “care” about global warming. You see, if this were a natural climate change cycle, then some folks would not be able to blame mankind for this crisis.

Other misconceptions being perpetuated are that there is an ideal average temperature for the earth and that the sea level should remain constant. The sea level has been rising for centuries and is likely to continue to rise with or without global warming. And, on a planet that on any given day can have a high temperature exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit and a low temperature of below minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, a change in the average temperature of 1-3 degrees Fahrenheit is not outside of an expected natural range of fluctuation.

In fact, scientists have been studying ice core samples, tree rings, and lake and sea bed sediments for decades, and as a result of that research, scientists say that the earth has experienced dramatic and rapid changes in average temperature over the past 100,000 years. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have gone up and down significantly over the years as well. An impressive graph plotting average temperatures and carbon dioxide levels over time is used by Al Gore in his docudrama, An Inconvenient Truth. A little known truth about that graph is that it compresses a very large span of time onto a relatively small space giving the illusion that when carbon dioxide levels go up so does the temperature. Upon closer examination, however, every single historically significant increase in temperature was followed, not preceded, by an increase in carbon dioxide. When I had the opportunity to ask the climate change expert from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) about this apparent discrepancy, I was left aghast by his answer. “Well, it’s kind of a chicken or the egg thing,” he said. I could hardly believe my ears. In response to a question about the data used to support the theory that increased carbon dioxide levels are the cause of global warming, the lead USGS scientist says, “It’s a chicken or the egg thing!”

Now, consider the following verbiage from a National Science Foundation/USGS brochure describing the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver, Colorado, and the modeling of climate systematics. “Information from ice studies represents pieces of the puzzle of understanding climate. It complements data from study of pollen, tree rings, coral, and lake and sea floor sediments. Through studies of ice, extreme climate swings have been identified in Earth's past; some have occurred remarkably quickly (in less than a decade). Mathematicians and modelers use the ice core data to create Global Climate Models, which are theoretical extensions of Earth's past climate conditions to what could happen in the future. Once the past can be explained, possible future events may be identified and their rapidity and effects predicted with at least some confidence and accuracy.” (emphasis added) These underlined words were carefully and deliberately chosen to describe the process of modeling climate change and demonstrate just how tenuous and uncertain the process of projecting climate change is. In fact, climate change modelers readily admit that there is not enough understanding of the role of clouds and cloud formation to include that in their “theoretical extensions.” Pure and simple, while rigorous and representative of the best knowledge available, modeling climate change is the one of the most under-informed, least reliable, and absolutely unverifiable forms of science that exists.

I have visited with two of the top mountain glacier scientists in the world and they both told me that the average temperature of the earth has been rising since the end of the Little Ice Age around 1850. As you might expect at the end of an ice age, most glaciers have been receding, but some have been advancing. Sometimes glaciers will both recede and advance in the same decade. It is important to note that all of this change began before the industrial revolution and before there were any significant sources of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions.

The same climate change alarmists who profess global warming today projected in 1975 (Newsweek Magazine, April 28, 1975) that the earth was entering a new and dramatic cooling period with many of the same calamitous effects that warming is predicted to cause.

Even the International Panel on Climate Change, the subject-matter experts often cited politicians and journalists, says in their report that if all human-caused carbon dioxide emissions were reduced to zero tomorrow, it would only slow the projected increase in the earth’s average temperature over the next 100 years by adding ten years. Moreover, natural sources of carbon dioxide emissions such as wild fires and volcanic eruptions could eclipse any reductions in human-caused emissions.

So, again, I ask, “Why should you care about global warming?” Or, more importantly, “What are you willing to pay or give up in light of the fact that in the end you may have no affect on climate change?” I suggest that if being more economical and efficient has the added benefit of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, then go for it. But, don’t forego a healthy economy, your car, your food supply, or your heating and air conditioning for a false hope. And don’t expect the people of China or India to give up their newly found prosperity, light bulbs, refrigerators, and air conditioning to appease the global warming extremists. I contend that “Reduce your carbon footprint” has become the moral equivalent of “Let them eat cake.” The people of the United States do not need to, nor should we, throw ourselves on the climate change sword based on theoretical projections, a focus only on humans as the cause, and a questionable outcome of any action we take.

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