Acton Institute Powerblog

Is “Climate Change” Really About the Temperature?

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:
Don’t be hitting it just yet, buddy.

Here’s an interesting piece from the April 16 issue of Newsweek by Richard Lindzen:

Judging from the media in recent months, the debate over global warming is now over. There has been a net warming of the earth over the last century and a half, and our greenhouse gas emissions are contributing at some level. Both of these statements are almost certainly true. What of it? Recently many people have said that the earth is facing a crisis requiring urgent action. This statement has nothing to do with science. There is no compelling evidence that the warming trend we’ve seen will amount to anything close to catastrophe. What most commentators—and many scientists—seem to miss is that the only thing we can say with certainly about climate is that it changes. The earth is always warming or cooling by as much as a few tenths of a degree a year; periods of constant average temperatures are rare…

…Is there any point in pretending that CO2 increases will be catastrophic? Or could they be modest and on balance beneficial? India has warmed during the second half of the 20th century, and agricultural output has increased greatly. Infectious diseases like malaria are a matter not so much of temperature as poverty and public-health policies (like eliminating DDT). Exposure to cold is generally found to be both more dangerous and less comfortable.

Moreover, actions taken thus far to reduce emissions have already had negative consequences without improving our ability to adapt to climate change. An emphasis on ethanol, for instance, has led to angry protests against corn-price increases in Mexico, and forest clearing and habitat destruction in Southeast Asia. Carbon caps are likely to lead to increased prices, as well as corruption associated with permit trading. (Enron was a leading lobbyist for Kyoto because it had hoped to capitalize on emissions trading.) The alleged solutions have more potential for catastrophe than the putative problem.

Well, surely Mr. Lindzen is a bought-and-paid-for mouthpiece of Big Oil, right?

Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research has always been funded exclusively by the U.S. government. He receives no funding from any energy companies.

You’ll want to read the whole essay – it’s well worth your time. And here’s one more quote to consider, which is perhaps Lindzen’s most important: “the evidence for global warming thus far doesn’t warrant any action unless it is justifiable on grounds that have nothing to do with climate.”

I neglected this earlier, but a Hat Tip goes to my good friend Adam Barr.

Marc Vander Maas