News: CJ Exclusives

Global Warming Threat Said Overblown

Dr. S. Fred Singer says Kyoto would bring high costs for little benefit

Lawmakers at the national, state and international level should avoid drastic measures to deal with global warming because of the huge economic costs for virtually no benefit, Dr. S. Fred Singer told a group of media and legislators Tuesday.

The Kyoto Treaty calls for a 35 percent decrease in carbon dioxide emissions, which would require 35 percent less energy use, Singer said. If fully implemented, the global temperature difference would amount to one-fiftieth of a degree, a difference not even measurable by official weather service thermometers, he said. For this unnoticeable benefit, however, the economic consequences would be devastating, he said.

“The Kyoto Protocol is an empty gesture,” said Singer. In addition, he said, global temperatures have swung wildly over the past 1,000 years, far more than the slight changes that Kyoto proponents use as proof of calamitous global warming.

Singer, President of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, a non-profit policy research group, Distinguished Research Professor at George Mason University and professor emeritus of environmental studies at the University of Virginia, is one of the nation’s foremost experts on climate trends, yet is very critical of implementing global warming policies. He spoke at a 10 a.m. press conference held in the General Assembly building and also at the John Locke Foundation’s Headliner Luncheon.

Singer’s visit comes as the NC legislature has proposed a commission on global climate change. Sen. Andrew Brock, who attended the press conference, said the proposed commission would be “an increased burden on taxpayers.” And Dr. Roy Cordato, the John Locke Foundation’s vice president for research, noted that no climatologist had been named to the proposed commission, though it does have environmentalists and members of electric utilities. Cordato introduced Singer at both of his appearances on Tuesday.

Singer said the global warming issue is complex involving science, economics, and public policy. In 1997, a proposal to adopt a worldwide policy regarding global warming, known as the Kyoto protocol, was presented to the U.S. Senate and was unanimously defeated.

“The United States has wisely stayed away from it,” said Singer, who noted that the treaty was unanimously rejected by the U.S. Senate in 1997 and that then-President Bill Clinton did nothing to push for ratification in the final three years of his presidency. Even if ratified, said Singer, Kyoto “would have a minute effect on climate.”

The debate over global warming is not settled in the scientific community, said Singer, even though it is often portrayed as such in the media. Singer said scientists fall into two categories where global warming is concerned, those who believe in the theory and the predictions of computer models and those who believe in observation. Computer models, he said, vary in as much as 400 percent in their predictions of future climates, especially the effect that increased carbon dioxide will have on temperatures.

According to Singer, carbon dioxide emission is a good thing for the earth. He told his lunch audience that it is a colorless, odorless, non-toxic gas that helps plants grow. He pointed out that while there has been an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the past 100 years, there is no evidence that connects that increase to increased global temperatures.

At the Locke luncheon, Singer told the overflow crowd of attendees that the only way to decrease carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is to decrease the use of fossil fuels. But the use of fossil fuels correlates with growing economies, he said, so any decrease in energy use would require a lessening of economic activity.

He pointed out that Russia, which recently ratified the Kyoto Treaty, did so because it wants to be able to sell its emission credits to other nations. Under the treaty, countries that are below their mandated emission levels may sell their surplus credits. But Russia has emission credits to sell only because its economy has collapsed, he said. It is the only country that is below it’s mandated Kyoto emissions levels.

Another problem, he said, is the lack of enforcement of emissions trading. “Countries have to report their emissions, but nobody checks them,” he said.

He pointed to the sometimes irrational nature of the public debate about global warming. For instance, at the recent G8 Summit in Scotland, British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared the top two issues to be discussed would be pulling Africa out of poverty and global warming. But, he said, if Africa is pulled out of poverty it will only be due to a growing economy, and a growing economy means more energy use, and, therefore, more carbon dioxide emissions. The two issues are contradictory, he said.

He pointed to China, which has a booming economy and which is also one of the biggest users of energy due to that growth.

Along with appearances by Singer at the General Assembly and at the Locke luncheon, the Locke Foundation provided each legislator with a copy to Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel, State of Fear. As the Locke Foundation’s Cordato said at the luncheon, the book may be fiction but it is based on good science.

“Our mission at the John Locke Foundation is to see that both sides of this argument be heard,” Cordato said at the morning press conference.

Jodi Powell is an editorial intern at the John Locke Foundation.