The Chief Scientific Adviser to the British Government, Sir David King, was in Washington DC this week trying to persuade America to act on global warming. A laudable aim, most Europeans might think, but the manner of Sir David’s approach, which will prove fruitless, was an object lesson for Europeans in how not to handle America. He is fighting in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong tactics. One has to ask why.
While many suggest that the current administration is hostile to the global warming issue, that is not the whole truth. American administrations are complex beasts, made up of
many different constituencies and interests. There are forces in the administration that believe America has to do more than it is doing on global warming, and they have issued comprehensive reports to that effect. The problem is that their case is weak. The Climate Action Report 2002, issued under the current President, presents a doomsday scenario of climate change badly affecting America, but it is based on models that show the same predictive ability as a table of random numbers.
There are enough levelheaded analysts in the administration to have realized this, and so proponents of global warming catastrophe theories have been labeled alarmists.
Recent predictions such as that from James Hansen, the father of global warming theory, that the earth will warm only about 1° C. by 2050 even if nothing is done about greenhouse gases carry more weight than alarmist predictions of huge temperature changes put forward by environmental pressure groups and their allied scientists.
That is why the political atmosphere in Washington DC is less receptive to climate change worries than London or Brussels. Perhaps because of the nature of the political system, with agencies second-guessing each other and the legislature inherently skeptical of action by the executive, the system is much more skeptical of scientific scares. There is no Chief Scientific Adviser to make up his mind for the President on such matters.
Weak scientific evidence
So Sir David was foolish to bring his road show to Washington when it was based on alarmist statements and weak scientific evidence. Yet he could have left without causing any offense. Instead, he chose to attempt to prick the administration into action by claiming that global warming was a worse threat to the world than terrorism. This showed an extraordinary lack of judgment on the part of this senior bureaucrat and is perhaps indicative of a European tin ear to the political tunes of America.
Since the events of September 11, 2001, there has been no challenge to the proposition that the single most important issue facing the President on the international stage is terrorism.
The issue has led America into two wars and seen large numbers of American servicemen die with no softening of the people’s resolve on the issue.
Apples and oranges
To suggest that a small theoretical rise in temperature is more dangerous to the world than a very real threat that killed 3000 American civilians on a single day and to defeat which American parents are willing to see their sons fight and die is incredibly offensive to most Americans.
Sir David’s response to this would doubtless tend towards the actuarial,pointing out that many more people are killed by climatic conditions than terrorism every year. Yet the American reply is twofold. First, this is comparing apples and oranges. Second, poverty kills many more every year than climate change, even if one believes the outrageous claims of the alarmists in this area. To reduce the number of deaths from poverty, we should continue to expand the American economy, the engine-room of global wealth, not restrict it with artificial restraints on energy use.
There should be no doubt that energy restraints such as those demanded by the now-dead Kyoto protocol increase poverty. A recent study by the International Council for Capital Formation showed that all European countries studied would suffer economically by adopting Kyoto-style restraints. Even Britain (with Sweden the only EU country on target for meeting its Kyoto commitments) will reduce its GDP by almost 5 percent and lose 1,000,000 jobs as a result.
Sir David called on America to show leadership. She already has. She has examined the science and economics of the global warming issue and decided, as things currently stand, that America and the world would be harmed by the sort of action Europe demands. She has been followed in her lead by Australia and, much to the bemusement of Europeans, Russia. China and India have both stated publicly that they will accept no restrictions on their energy use either. On this issue, it is Europe that stands isolated.
Americans are entitled to ask why. There is a suspicion in Washington DC that European nations talk about Kyoto so often because it is the only thing they agree on beyond Europe’s borders.
The EU is hopelessly divided on issues like the UN, Iraq, weapons of mass destruction and the like, but they are able to agree on climate change issues, because there is no continuing debate in Europe on the changing nature of the science and economics of the issue.
In that context, Sir David’s comparison of the issue to terrorism looks even less persuasive to American eyes. If Europe remains convinced that the likelihood of global warming catastrophe is significant, it will have to come up with a better messenger than Sir David King.