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Jay Ambrose: Treat global warming cautiously

By Jay Ambrose

Scripps Howard News Service

Published: Sunday, Feb. 20 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

There's a new book out, something called "Hot." The author worries how his little girl will suffer if something isn't done about global warming, says a New York Times reviewer confiding that the concern broke his heart.

Here's something that should also break his heart. If we do the wrong thing about the climate, we might do far more harm than global warming ever could, maybe killing children.

It's utterly amazing that so many journalists and others inundate us regularly with scare stories demanding that the United States take fierce anti-warming action while scarcely ever pausing to mention the possible futility of it all — or the costs.

Those costs will get us if we don't fight back, and those saying so aren't just radio hosts of the kind that make leftists urge censorship. They are people like William Nordhaus, a Yale economist who thinks man-made warming is real and dangerous. He has calculated what would happen in the long haul if the world were to implement an anti-warming plan like Al Gore's and has some numbers to share: Costs would outweigh benefits by $21 trillion.

One possible meaning of that figure for undeveloped countries would be that they remain impoverished, sticking with old-fashioned energy sources such as human brawn and maybe a windmill tossed in occasionally. Think of famine. Think of widespread disease. That would be the story unless developed countries gave them hundreds of billions despite recessions, high unemployment and their own Third World trajectories, all induced by the senselessness of cap-and-trade overreach.

Nordhaus does think some strategies could be effective, but there are reasons any effort might be of little avail. If India and China do not join the parade, nothing is accomplished by any American program, and the Chinese have not been spotted signing up. If the warming trends aren't bad, it's all a lot of hollering about very little, and some climatologists say the trends are mild.

One of them is Patrick Michaels who was at the University of Virginia for 30 years. His study convinces him nothing disastrous lies around yonder bend. Another is Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He believes gloomy computer simulations are bogus, that the climate changes we are seeing could be more natural than man-made and, like Michaels, that no intolerable warming lies ahead.

While some fanatically vile environmental activists try to make it sound as if anyone disagreeing with their conjectures is on the take, uncertainties abound about human-caused, calamitous climate change. And that's true despite what you may be reading about the accumulating evidence from such commentators as a New Yorker writer upset about reduced presidential alarmism even though he does notice the EPA is preparing an assault. My promise is it will be nasty, destructive and pointless.

A better answer is to adopt one sane course of action that Mark Hertsgaard, the author of "Hot," recommends: adaptation. Another answer if climate does veer in ruinous directions could be along the lines of something the famed physicist Freeman Dyson has suggested. In not too many more years, he suspects, we will have bioengineered plants capable of absorbing huge amounts of the atmospheric carbon dioxide believed by some to be the devil behind a coming hellfire.

The main thing is to avoid what happened with DDT. Because of a ban to protect wildlife from the pesticide in this country, it became more scarce, various kinds of pressures helped restrict its use anywhere, and a consequence was its being employed sparingly if at all in wildlife-safe, indoor spraying to combat malaria in Africa. Though not always, DDT can be enormously effective in stopping the disease while posing minimal if any threats to humans. The estimate is that millions of African children died because of misplaced values and overreactions.

That's worse than heart-breaking.

Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com.

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