Since the whole subject of cap-and-trade revolves around the theory of global warming, we thought we’d spend a small amount of time on it. Some people like to accept on faith that the planet is warming, that humans are causing the warming, and that we should do almost anything it takes to stop it. We don’t want to destroy the planet in a fiery cataclysm any more than the next guy, but we do like to take a reasoned approach. There are several logical hoops we must jump through before we can reach the conclusion that we should quickly do whatever we can to save the planet. First, is global warming actually happening? Second, are humans causing the warming? Third, can humans reasonably halt or slow the warming? Fourth, is the cost of halting or slowing the warming less than the benefit of doing so?
There is mixed evidence on whether the planet is actually warming. General consensus is that we have warmed by something like 0.6 ºC since the mid-1800’s. However, satellite data has showed us cooling a bit over the past decade or so. Of course we don’t have a long temperature history from satellites, and ten years is nothing to the planet. This highlights a major problem with temperature data. The quality and integrity of temperature data is a big question mark. Should we measure from land, ocean, or atmospheric sources? How far back can we reliably go? Who is slicing and dicing the data, and do they have an axe to grind? It is a fact that land sources can be biased warm because of urbanization. A study was done of National Weather Service monitoring points which found that almost 90% of them were too close to buildings, parking lots, etc for accurate readings. Satellite data avoids the problems associated with land measurements, but we have only a few decades of satellite data. El Nino impacts oceanic temperatures. It appears to be a problem that all long term temperature records are suspect in some way. This matters since temperature changes are the core issue of global warming.
The evidence on whetherCO2 humans are causing the warming is also mixed. No doubt atmospheric CO2 levels have increased in recent decades, and certainly some of this is caused by humans. However, humans don’t cause all atmospheric CO2 and there is some question about CO2’s actual effectiveness in creating the greenhouse effect. Some scientists actually believe that warming causes atmospheric CO2, not that CO2 causes warming. Their theory is that the oceans store CO2, more when cold and less when warm, so when the planet warms more CO2 is released into the atmosphere. It’s also true that atmospheric CO2 levels have risen in the past decade while atmospheric temperatures have not. This implies something (probably MANY things) at work besides CO2. We don’t pretend to know for sure. Climate is an extremely complex system. It’s safe to say that there is an abundance of science to support both viewpoints. However, we can ask a few logical questions. We had large changes in temperatures long before man was industrialized. What caused them? Why did we have 11th century warming, long before industrialization? Why did we have a mini-Ice Age in the 16th-18th centuries? Even if we accept that humans play some part in warming, it is clear that there are also other forces at work influencing our climate.
On the question of whether or not humans can halt or slow global warming, we show the evidence elsewhere (LITTLE IMPACT ON GLOBAL TEMPERATURES). An 83% reduction in human carbon emissions would create a temperature reduction of only two tenths of one degree! We may have plenty of reasons to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, but affecting global warming does not appear to be a strong reason.
Finally, on the question of whether the cost of slowing warming is less than the benefit of doing so, we think this is a mixed bag. The Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill certainly seems likely to incur more cost than benefits. Thinking about this in a more fundamental way, it’s possible that the cost of adapting to a warming planet is more cost-effective than cap-and-trade or other effort to reduce temperatures. In any case, we’re not convinced that warming is necessarily bad. Much of human history has been about surviving cold. Warm is usually good. It’s likely that a few degrees warming would be good for enhanced plant growth and crop yields. Anyway, how do we know that the temperature we have now is the single best temperature that must be defended at all costs?
We think all the uncertainty supports our view that the science is not settled and that we should study it more and wait for more data before making drastic changes to our energy supplies, our global competitiveness, and our economy. If someone develops a cheap, clean, efficient, and renewable alternative to fossil fuels, we are 100% for it. Until that happy day arrives, we prefer not to destroy our current energy system and economy.