July 12, 2005

Global Warming and Terrorism

Filed under: Climate Politics

For years, Sir David King, science advisor to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has stated that “climate change is a far greater threat to the world than international terrorism.” In fact, King has been so effective with this hysteria that Blair has repeatedly said that global warming and terrorism are the two most important issues confronting mankind.

In doing, so, he has espoused the United Nations’ Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which does nothing measurable about planetary temperature, but would cost the U.S. 1-2% of its GDP per year.

Last week, the London Telegraph reported that Blair’s environment ministers are proposing an individual personal allotment of energy, because of global warming, which would make Cuba, North Korea, and England the only nations on earth that ration fuel. Each personal allotment would take the form of an “energy card” against which a withdrawal would be made everytime someone purchases energy, such as buying gasoline or an airplane ticket. When you use your allotment, the price increases (hopefully) inducing you to use less.

One would hope that recent events in London might add some needed perspective.

Compare and contrast global warming and terrorism.

Terrorism kills innocent people. It makes no one live longer.

As the earth warmed in the last 100 years, life expectancy in developed nations doubled.

Terrorism consumes enormous amounts of private capital. 9/11 trimmed 20% off the value of the Dow. People who cleansed their 401-K’s in that free-fall have never recovered.

The planetary warming since 1900 has seen per capita real GDP increase from $4,310 to $35,790, or 830%.

Terrorism imposes a substantial and continuing cost, in the form of increased security, lost productivity, and allocation of finite tax resources and public service personnel.

It’s not known whether global warming even extracts a net cost. Carbon dioxide, the emission that many think is the main cause for warming in recent decades, makes most agricultural plants grow better. There are literally thousands of experiments documenting this in the refereed scientific literature. It a reasonable estimate that between 5 and 10% of the global increase in agricultural yield in the last half of the 20th century was a direct result of industrial carbon dioxide emissions.

Terrorism is specifically targeted at rich nations because that gets worldwide attention.

Global warming does little if anything to the rich, while it may (emphasize “may”) be a net-negative in poor societies. Consider the slight rise in sea level, a few inches at best, concurrent with the warming of the last 100 years. There are now few (if any) deaths from oceanic surges in affluent and hurricane-prone North Carolina, while a mere tropical storm will kill tens of thousands in Bangladesh.

Finally, one can mitigate (but not entirely stop) terrorism. It has not been lost on the citizens of the United States that there has been no serious incident since 9/11, and there hasn’t been a single suicide bomber.

But one can’t do a measurable thing about global warming. If every nation on earth met the Kyoto protocol, the amount of warming that would be prevented is too small to measure on the time scale of fifty years.

These futile attempts to diminish warming cost society dearly. In general, the European nations that are most vocal about Kyoto have the worst economies. In addition, devoting bureaucratic attention to warming takes political support from agencies and institutions whose roles are to combat terrorism.

Finally, there’s the social cost of those energy rationing cards, issued because global warming is such a threat. Make no mistake: when people can’t afford energy, they will use less. Their urban homes will be warmer, and harder (and more expensive) to cool in the next summer heat wave. Power for air conditioning was unavailable because of a thunderstorm in Chicago’s 1995 heat wave, and hundreds died. In France, two years ago, a cultural distaste for air conditioning in Paris cost thousands. Overall, in the United States, heat-related mortality in cities has declined dramatically because of abundant energy powering ubiquitous air conditioning.

Let’s get it straight. Terrorism costs innocent lives, and massive amounts of social and individual capital. Global warming can’t even be demonstrated as a net negative, and putting it on the same plane as terrorism only serves to wastefully divert resources. That analysis that could have been made prior to July 7, but should seem painfully obvious now.

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