Our Changing Climate

Al Jacobs

On December 15, 2019, the most recent marathon United Nations climate conference in Madrid, Spain, ended, amidst general disagreement of the more than 200 nations involved to ramp up efforts for keeping global warming at bay. After two nights of fractious negotiations, delegates decided to defer matters until the Glasgow climate summit scheduled for November 2020. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres admitted to be disappointed by the outcome, saying “The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis. We must not give up and I will not give up.”

Apparently the disagreements centered mostly on money. Chile’s Environment Minister Carolina Schmidt regretted no deal was reached on the rules for international trading in carbon emissions permits. And the demand by poorer countries for payments from the richer countries – particularly the United States – as compensation for the damage presumably caused by emissions, found little support. This related to an agreement four years prior to funnel $100 billion per year by 2020 to assist developing nations. As in the past, discourse seemed to be mostly confined to haggling over the loot. Whether or not anyone involved at the climate change conference had any interest whatever in actual climate change is uncertain.

On the matter of the climate crisis, I’ve been quizzical from the onset how truly sincere are the global warming advocates. From it’s formal onset in 1988, when the U.N. formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we’ve seen a continual outpouring of reports of such events as the continual warming of the oceans, sea levels rising, extreme waves and storms on the rise, sea life and ecosystems disrupted and more frequent coral bleaching events and marine heat waves. However, with much of this presented to the public in an outlandish exposé fashion, I cannot help but feel it’s more public relations (PR) than actual fact.

On this basis, its PR image is now more firmly planted than ever before, with Greta Thurberg, a 16-year-old Swedish girl, as the most recent champion of the cause, who gained international recognition by being featured on the cover of Time magazine as Person of the Year. With a climate activist background initiated by skipping school to hold a sign up in front of the Swedish parliament saying “School strike for the climate,” and thereafter lauded into world fame by climate change enthusiasts – including a nomination for the 2019 Nobel Peace Price – she’s become the symbol of a movement of which she understands little or nothing. To me, this is not what the spokesperson of a cause should be.

Who, then, deserves to be the spokespersons of the climate change endeavor? To verify the validity of the claims, I’d look for persons with a depth of knowledge and experience in the field – most certainly those with academic credentials and vast experience in the field.

In the hope of locating one or more such experts, I searched the Internet and came upon just such a Wikipedia list, titled: “Scientific consensus on climate change.” Following the title appeared: “There is currently a strong scientific consensus the Earth is warming and this warming is mainly caused by human activities. This consensus is supported by various studies of scientists’ opinions and represents the state-of-the-art of climate science supported by the major science academies around the world.” And then, listed alphabetically, appeared hundreds of names of persons, mostly identified with glowing academic credentials.

As I searched the list, I came upon someone I’d known professionally; perhaps it’s not that surprising, as my background includes a Master’s Degree in chemistry and ten years as a college chemistry instructor. His name: F. Sherwood Rowland, with both M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago, and a professorship at the University of California Irvine, from whom I took a graduate course in atmospheric chemistry.

As for his expertise, he specialized in the chemical interaction of the Freon compounds (chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons) upon the ozone layer around the Earth. For both the studies he engaged in and the revelations he revealed as to their deleterious effects in the ionosphere, he received, in 1995, along with two co-awardees, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Although the late-Professor Rowland was a remarkable chemist and thoroughly knowledgeable in his specialty – destruction of the ozone layer – I don’t remember a single word he ever uttered concerning carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or global warming. Nor do I recall any of his student assistants, with whom I worked and studied regularly, ever mentioning the subject. And I suspect the hundreds of names on the Wikipedia list most likely fall into the same category – thoroughly devoid of any knowledge on the subject of global warming. It’s obvious they’re there strictly for PR.

With these extraneous matters now behind us, let’s take a closer look at climate change to determine what we may expect. According to the most recent IPCC Assessment Report, without significant interventions to reduce emissions, global temperatures will rise on the order of two degrees Celsius by this century’s end. To prevent this requires the world to reduce its global carbon dioxide emissions 40-70 percent below 2010 levels by 2050. There’s no way this can be accomplished without compelling developing countries to make substantial reductions in their current consumption in fossil fuels. This kind of tradeoff presents a classic economic problem, where some individuals consume an item damaging to the well-being of others not involved in the transaction. Unfortunately, in this case, billions of people in these depressed areas have far too little to sustain development; putting them on an energy diet thereby traps millions in poverty, creating a cure worse than the disease. Consequently, these developing countries will never consent to such a program. And even if we somehow coerce them into an agreement, we must then enforce, possibly for hundreds of years, a set of global rules running directly contrary to the self-interest of a majority of the persons on the earth. How likely is it, for example, a rural Bangladesh official might enforce these rules on a local coal-fired power plant?

It’s for this very reason idealistic programs instituted by the major industrial nations of the globe will yield no positive results. If, as California proposes, internal combustion engines will be prohibited after 2030, it will make no discernable difference in carbon emissions worldwide. It takes little understanding to realize the feelings of ecological superiority for such an inane decision cannot take precedence over the likely destruction of the economy of one of this nation’s more prosperous states.

So, as the harmful effects of global warming appear imminent, what must be done to rescue the world? It’s my belief only the benefits of technology will forestall what otherwise seems inevitable. As evidence of this, humanity fared well since 1950 – during this period fossil fuel consumption increased by 550 percent. Even though the world warmed about 0.65 degrees Celsius, life expectancy increased nearly 50 percent in that time. In addition, global crop yields for wheat, corn and soy increased appreciably, largely the result of mechanized agriculture, synthetic fertilizers, refrigeration, plastic packaging, motorized transport and modern communications. These very innovations enabled the wealthier societies to aid the poorer nations in times of distress.

I’ll concede there are fortunes to be made in the climate policies currently in vogue, irrespective of whether there’s validity to any of them. Be aware nonetheless, for each one touted you’ll find an abysmal benefit-cost ratio. These are the perils inherent in any program based upon a consensus of uninformed bureaucrats. The standard rejoinder is, if the whole world implements these policies, we prevent global warming. Perhaps so, but the problem is any truly ambitious global program of fossil-fuel suppression is potentially an humanitarian disaster in the making.



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