At the United Nations Climate Summit (aka COP26) in Glasgow last week, President Joe Biden declared that climate change is “the existential threat to human existence as we know it.”
Based on that judgment, he plans to implement policies that will weaken America’s national security and economy and slow development in poor countries. Perhaps this question occurs to you: Is Mr. Biden’s judgment correct?
Those arguing that it is not include Steven E. Koonin, who served as the senior scientist in the Department of Energy under President Barack Obama. Mr. Koonin does not “deny” that the climate is changing or human activity influences that change.
But in articles and a book published this year, “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters,” he makes a persuasive case that the computer models that predict climate apocalypse are deficient and unreliable.
He provides data showing that heatwaves in the U.S. “are now no more common than they were in 1900,” that “the warmest temperatures in the U.S. have not risen in the past fifty years,” and that “Greenland’s ice sheet isn’t shrinking any more rapidly today than it was eighty years ago.”
If you’ve been led to believe otherwise, that’s probably because activists have been “exaggerating and distorting” the evidence to make the case that “we are facing the ‘last, best chance’ to save the planet from a hellish future.”
He notes that the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “deems its highest-emissions scenarios of the future unlikely, even though those are the ones you’re mostly likely to hear about in media reports.”
Since the late 1800s, he points out the world has warmed by about 1 degree Celsius without significant adverse consequences. He postulates that “even 1.5 degrees of additional warming by 2100 will have minimal net economic impact.” He scolds commentators who fail to grasp the difference between weather and climate.
Bjorn Lomborg, who heads the Copenhagen Consensus Center, contends that policies aimed at cooling the planet quickly are bound to fail. Even if the U.S. went “entirely net zero” on carbon emissions tomorrow, he has calculated, that “would only cut temperatures by the end of the century by 0.3 degree Fahrenheit” – barely measurable.
That’s because “most of the emissions in the 21st century will come from China, India, Africa, the rest of Southeast Asia, Latin America – countries that are now trying to lift their populations out of poverty and obviously have much greater priorities than cutting carbon emissions.” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni recently wrote: “Africa can’t sacrifice its future prosperity for Western climate goals.”
Mr. Lomborg urges a different approach: increased investment in “green energy research” to develop power sources cheaper than fossil fuels. And, of course, we could cut carbon emissions immediately by switching from coal to natural gas and bringing online nuclear power facilities such as those France utilizes. Why most activists reject those options, we’ll leave for another discussion.
Mr. Lomborg emphasizes the human ability to adapt to climate change. Farmers will switch crops. Levees and dikes can protect low-lying areas near oceans, as is already the case in below-sea-level Holland and New Orleans. Since trees ingest carbon dioxide, boosting re-afforestation can be helpful. Keeping free markets free spurs innovation.
By contrast, “climate summits” – 26 of them since 1992 – where politicians arrive on private jets, virtue signal, spew hot air, and make promises they can’t or won’t keep bring no progress. Perhaps you noticed that, just before COP26, Mr. Biden was pressuring OPEC to produce more oil.
Another shortcoming of the current approach is that “renewable” energy sources are less renewable than advertised. The Manhattan Institute’s Mark P. Mills has noted: “Wind and solar machines and batteries are built from nonrenewable materials. And they wear out. Old equipment must be decommissioned, generating millions of tons of waste.”
“Building enough wind turbines to supply half the world’s electricity would require nearly two billion tons of coal to produce the concrete and steel, along with two billion barrels of oil to make the composite blades,” he added. “More than 90% of the world’s solar panels are built in Asia on coal-heavy electric grids.”
As for electric cars: “A single electric-car battery weighs about 1,000 pounds,” Mr. Mills wrote. “Fabricating one requires digging up, moving and processing more than 500,000 pounds of raw materials somewhere on the planet.”
Other drawbacks include the need for rare-earth metals and other materials that will be mined “in nations with oppressive labor practices. The Democratic Republic of the Congo produces 70 percent of the world’s raw cobalt, and China controls 90 percent of the cobalt refining.” Perhaps you’re aware, too, that Chinese President Xi Jinping, who didn’t attend COP26, is building new coal-powered plants.
Last month, Mr. Xi tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile that could be used to launch a first strike against the U.S. Also, Nicolas Chaillan, a senior cybersecurity official at the Defense Department, resigned, explaining that because the Pentagon is not prioritizing cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, successfully competing with China in those strategic areas will be impossible anytime soon. Ignoring such warnings, the Defense Department last week announced plans to name a “senior person” to – perhaps you guessed – “prioritize” climate change.
Almost three years ago, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, declared that “the world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change.” Based on that judgment, she’s determined to implement her “Green New Deal,” ignoring the perspectives of experts such as those quoted above. Perhaps it occurs to you that Mr. Biden and others following her lead are not following the science.
• Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times.
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