Adrift on the Seas of Knowledge

Adrift on the Seas of Knowledge

Murray Op-Ed in National Review Online
October 06, 2003

Senators John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (D., Conn.) are deeply concerned about the issue of global climate change. So much so that they are cosponsoring the Climate Stewardship Act in the Senate this month, a Kyoto-like measure which would impose extra costs on greenhouse-gas-emitting industries such as energy and manufacturing, and will set up a whole new welfare agency to compensate those whose heating costs go up as a result. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Climate change is, of course, a very complex area, so one would expect the good senators to have studied the science and economics of the subject in great detail. Yet the more one looks at what they say on the subject, the more superficial appears their understanding. Certainly, they have some very clever men advising them. That's how they are able to hold learned hearings on the subject (Sen. McCain held one last week, at which only very clever global-warming alarmists were represented) and to issue complicated papers on the subject written, one suspects, by those clever advisers. But when it comes down to their own words, one just gets the feeling that they are all at sea.

Take Senator McCain, for instance, who used to be opposed to extra energy taxes. He is on record as saying that the reason he became interested in global warming in the first place is because he recognized how much hotter it was getting at his home in Sedona, Arizona. Unfortunately, the data don't back him up on this. If we look at the temperature records from the nearby Childs Weather Station, we can actually see a downward trend in temperature of slightly over 1° F. since 1986, when McCain was elected to the Senate. Another nearby station, <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Fort Valley, shows a very slight upwards trend. You can see these trends for yourself by looking at the official records available at the website. Certainly there are upward trends elsewhere in Arizona, but these are balanced by downward trends—Tucson has cooled while Tombstone has warmed. Arizona makes a poor poster boy for global-warming theory.

Senator Lieberman, on the other hand, seems to misunderstand the relationship between industrial activity and temperature. In Senate hearings earlier this year, Sen. Conrad Burns (R., Mt.) said in his statement that, "Last year, the Washington Post reported that we had emissions decreased last year [sic]. One of the reasons was a 4.4 percent reduction in manufacturing output." In his testimony that followed, Sen. Lieberman stated, "Global warming is real. 2002, the second warmest year in record, slightly cooler than the record warm year of 1998 but, as Sen. Burns indicated, for reasons that we're not happy about because manufacturing is down." Can Sen. Lieberman really believe that 2002 was only cooler than 1998 because there was a recession? Even the most extreme greenhouse theorist wouldn't argue that carbon emissions immediately affect the temperature.

Nevertheless, there is a point hidden in Sen. Lieberman's testimony. The Kyoto Protocols so beloved by Sen. Lieberman call on America to reduce its carbon emissions below 1990 levels. Emissions from manufacturing industry actually did dip below those levels last year—thanks to the recession in America's manufacturing sector. The Kyoto target has been reached by those industries, but at a cost of millions of jobs—three million jobs have been lost since 1998 alone. To meet our Kyoto targets, America would need similar recessions in other sectors, and the sort of lifestyle changes that accompany lower incomes. The Climate Stewardship Act would be a good first step in achieving that, as the statutorily independent Energy Information Agency (EIA) reckons it would cost the American economy $507 billion over the next 22 years.

The esteemed senators tried to hide this in an op-ed they wrote together for the San Francisco Chronicle on August 1 by saying that its cost would be "no more than 0.01 percent" of the gross national product. That sounds small, but it ignores how big the American economy is. The EIA put the annual cost of their measure at $106 billion. That is not exactly chump change.

Chump, however, is the word that comes to mind when one looks closer at that op-ed. At one point the learned authors say, "According to a United Nations' study, every ton of greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere costs each American up to $160—and we are emitting billions of tons each year." When you're saying things like that, it helps to do the math to see if the statement passes the laugh test. This one doesn't. The United States produces well over five billion tons of CO2 alone every year. At $160 per ton, this means that the total cost is $800,000,000,000 each year, which is more than the gross domestic product of every state except California. To say the least, this seems unlikely. And this is the charitable interpretation of what they said. It could be read as implying that greenhouse-gas emissions cost each American that sum—all 280 million of us.

The hearing Sen. McCain held last week on climate change was described by one observer as a pep rally for climate-change alarmism. At one point, McCain quipped that his bill had been described as bringing the "end of Western civilization as we know it," but immediately apologized for proposing such a modest first step. It is unfortunate that two representatives of the most distinguished legislative body in the world are proving the truth of the old adage, "a little of learning is a dangerous thing."