01.28.2021

Climate Alarmism Reconsidered (2004 insight for Biden’s ‘climate day’)

By Robert Bradley, Jr.

“A reliable worldview, respect for data, and humility in the face of the unknown allow older writings to have longevity and relevance. I believe that the above summary has held up well as the climate debate enters its fourth decade. I predict that fossil fuels will outlive and overcome the current attack just as was done back in the 1970s.”

In 2004 I published a booklet for the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in London, Climate Alarmism Reconsidered. Written 16 years after James Hansen’s climate-scare testimony, and 16 years before Joe Biden’s ‘climate day‘ yesterday, I present the summary bullets of that study.

The ten points follow:

• The energy sustainability issues of resource depletion, reliability (security) and pollution have been effectively addressed by market entrepreneurship, technology, and, in the absence of private property rights, measured regulation. Continuing improvement is expected.

• The remaining carbon energy-related sustainability issue concerns anthropogenic (man-made) climate change. Current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations are approximately 52 per cent above pre-industrial levels with an associated increase in global warming potential of 66 percent. Emissions released in the mining, transportation and combustion of oil, natural gas and coal account for most of this accumulation.

• The balance of evidence points towards a benign temperature ‘greenhouse signal’. A greenhouse signal has not been identified with weather extremes or ‘surprises’.

• Enhanced atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations create tangible benefits to offset any costs associated with anthropogenic climate change.

• Liberal energy markets foster wealth creation, adaptation and social resilience – a positive strategy to deal with inevitable climate change, natural and anthropogenic. In addition, free-market reforms in the energy sector harness self-interest in energy efficiency, which has historically tended to reduce GHG emissions per unit of energy.

• Mandatory GHG emission reductions beyond ‘no regrets’ actions produce costs in excess of benefi ts under realistic assumptions, including discounting future benefits (if discernible) to compare with near-term costs.

• Serious efforts to equilibrate the carbon cycle will have to employ novel sequestration strategies given increasing energy usage, supply constraints with renewable energies and political and economic limitations with nuclear power.

• Activist proposals for GHG reductions such as cap-and-trade programmes should be cognisant of the unintended consequences of open-ended regulatory regimes driven by temporary political majorities.

• The precautionary principle should be applied to government intervention limiting GHG emissions (e.g. the Kyoto Protocol), not just to acts of man on the natural environment. The economic risks of intervention, in other words, must be evaluated along with environmental ones.

• The major threat to energy sustainability is statism, not depletion, pollution, reliability or anthropogenic climate change. Major government interventions in energy markets, such as price controls, access restrictions or carbon suppression, create the energy problems that non-politicised, free-market processes work to prevent.

A reliable worldview, respect for data, and humility in the face of the unknown allow older writings to have longevity and relevance. I believe that the above summary has held up well as the climate debate enters its fourth decade. I predict that fossil fuels will outlive and overcome the current attack just as was done back in the 1970s.

Appendix: Corrections to Climate Alarmism Reconsidered (2004)

With the print edition of this book, the following corrections should be noted.

  • Page 60, Figure 7: The legend should be °C, not °C per decade.
  • Page 82: For Kyoto Protocol compliance, the cost-benefit ratio should be 7:1, not 1:7.
  • Page 88, n50: The text quotation comes from Mendelsohn and Neumann, pp. 2, 321.
  • Page 156: John Holdren quotation beginning with “By far the worst prospects …” should end with power plants (not tower plants).

This article appeared on the MasterResource website at https://www.masterresource.org/climate-alarmism-reconsidered-booklet/climate-alarmism-reconsidered-2004-biden-climate-day/

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