November 2009

What do we know about global warming and how does Climategate affect this? What should (or should not) happen at the Copenhagen global warming summit? Do we need to sacrifice freedom and curtail economic activity to prevent catastrophe or does the world need more freedom and capitalism to unleash the creativity of billions of people to increase the quality of human life and create a cleaner, greener planet?

Here is what we know as laymen reading available information. I am skipping links to references, but all the information can easily be found on the internet. This is a little longer than the typical summary of global warming and its policy implications, but it is intended to bring together a lot of pieces of the debate over our future in an accessible format for the educated general reader.

1. The Earth’s climate always changes. In the past 150 – 200 years it has gotten warmer.
In recorded human history the climate was warmer during Roman times (the Romans, for instance, grew wine in Great Britain), followed by a cold period during the early Middle Ages, followed by a Medieval warm period during which Icelanders and Norwegians settled on the southern tip of Greenland. When the climate got significantly colder during what is known as the “Little Ice Age”, these European settlers vanished from Greenland. The Little Ice Age lasted from about 1300 to about 1800. In the last 150 – 200 years the Earth has gotten warmer. This is not a continuous smooth trend. For example from the 1940s to the 1970s it generally got colder, from the late 1970s to the late 1990s it got warmer and since 1998 it has gotten cooler again.

Prior to recorded human history there were many long-term cycles in climate. At times a thick ice sheet covered most of North America.

2. Human activity has increased the amount of carbondioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.
CO2 has increased from about 280 parts per million (or 0.028 percent) in the late 1800s to about 380 parts per million (0.038%). That is a 35 percent increase, but CO2 still makes up only a tiny part of our atmosphere.

3. Global warming scientists claim that this increase in CO2 and future increases will result in catastrophic warming
causing unpredictable weather, droughts, floods, stronger hurricanes, etc. They base this prediction on models that they have created that take the amount of CO2 into account, but leave out other factors such as the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere or variations in solar activity.

4. Ice core data shows that there is a correlation between CO2 and temperature.

As Al Gore stated in his movie, this relationship is complex. He didn’t elaborate on this complexity, but a key fact to understand is that temperatures increased first, followed by increases in CO2 over a few hundred years. So a temperature increase is followed by a rise in CO2 rather than the other way around. How is this possible? Well, one explanation is that warmer oceans and previously frozen soil release a lot of CO2. Interestingly, the rise in CO2 did not cause further warming, so there must be mechanisms that stabilize and reduce CO2. This doesn’t mean that these mechanisms will kick in and eliminate man-made CO2, but more research along this line would be interesting.

5. We do not know how much of the warming of the past 200 years is the result of human activity.
There are some studies that show that only a small part or none of the warning is caused by man. Global warming advocates claim that all of it is caused by humans. Consider what we know: the Earth started warming in the early to mid-1800s at a time when human carbon emissions were tiny compared to today. Could it be that we just happened to advance technologically during a time of natural warming? How different would things look if the industrial revolution had started at the beginning of the Little Ice Age in 1300!

6. A warmer climate has positive and negative effects.

Consider some of the positive factors that you never hear from global warming alarmists. Plants can grow at higher latitudes. In the northern hemisphere where the bulk of the Earth’s landmass is located, more food can be grown in places like Siberia, Canada and northern Europe. There could also be more forests replacing the loss in tropical forests like the Amazon that is always lamented by environmentalists.

People can withstand heat better than cold. I live in Florida and am able to engage in vigorous exercise in 90 degree summer weather as long as I drink plenty of fluids. Air condition is a benefit of civilization, but it is not necessary for humans to survive in warm climates. On the other hand, humans will quickly freeze to death in extreme cold weather without a lot of protective gear and shelter. This is not meant to imply that people weakened by disease or age are not in danger in extreme heat, but as human societies become wealthier we can protect humans from these dangers.

7. If the predictions made by global warming alarmists were true, it is difficult to see what we could do to reverse global warming at this point short of abandoning much of modern technology and living again like our ancestors did in the 19th century. Asides from the obvious reality that no sane society would agree to turning back civilization by one hundred or two hundred years, the Earth’s population could not be sustained without modern carbon-emitting technology. Mass starvation would surely be the result. For the extremists on global warming who see humans as an infestation of the planet, that may be a good thing, but I think we can assume that sane people will not condone the death of hundreds of millions or billions of people. The cure is worse than the “disease.”

8. If the predictions made by global warming alarmists were true, mitigating the bad effects would be a better strategy.
The average Bangladeshi threatened by rising sea levels in 2100 will be a lot wealthier than the average Bangladeshi today (if we don’t prevent Bangladesh from developing) and might look to Holland for a way to mitigate rising sea levels. Much of Holland is on below sea level land reclaimed from the ocean. Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish statistician has done a lot of interesting work on the effectiveness of spending resources on reversing global warming vs. dealing with current, real problems such as malnutrition, lack of clean water, malaria and HIV and mitigating future effects of warming.

9. Climategate has confirmed that the advocates of global warming have performed their work without openly sharing all the information.
They claim that they do this because of attacks from climate skeptics, but could it be that they have confused cause and effect? Lack of transparency by global warming scientists and an unwillingness to show their cards have made a lot of people skeptics.

On top of this lack of transparency, the leading scientists of global warming have been caught bullying scientific journals not to accept papers from anyone challenging their views and comments from programmers on the actual code of the climate models confirm suspicions that the models may be fatally flawed.

Leading global warming scientists have behaved like the executives of the cigarette industry who tried to hide undisputable links between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer. We should hold them to the same standard as the cigarette industry.

10. The solutions proposed by global warming alarmists involve extreme curbs on economic activity and transfers of huge sums from the US and other wealthy countries to developing countries. With the discrediting of socialism in all its forms in the 1980s and 1990s, a lot of left-wing intellectuals and politicians have found a new home in the global warming movement. Global warming gives them an alternate way of destroying capitalism and creating a society controlled by government, this time on a global scale.

Freedom and capitalism have created enormous wealth in advanced economies. China, India, Brazil and other emerging countries are rapidly catching up with North America, East Asia and Europe. A world in which more people live in at least moderate prosperity can be a world with less war and conflict and the ability to better deal with threats from extremist ideologies from terrorists like al-Qaeda and the rulers of countries like Iran, North Korea and Venezuela.

If global warming scientists have identified real dangers requiring immediate action, they should openly share all the information and be willing to face challenges from skeptics. A free exchange of ideas will result in people being better informed and making better policy decisions.

There should be no deals to make drastic changes that will hurt economic development in Copenhagen. There needs to be an honest debate before specific policies should be considered.

Capitalism has unleashed creativity that will extend our ability to find and use carbon-based energy while we need it to fuel economic development. At the same time capitalism creates incentives for developing “green”, cleaner sources of energy including nuclear and solar energy. There is no crisis requiring the sacrifice of human freedom and the destruction of wealth.

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Coverage of Climategate is exploding. It is becoming impossible for any one person to follow all the stories. Here are links (in no particular order) to some great coverage to keep you informed:

Climategate computer model code manipulation is the real story.

Mark Steyn on the absurdity of peer reviews as practiced by CRU scientists.

Michael Barone on the global warming consensus being based on bad data and the consequences for Copenhagen.

Roger Simon says its time to postpone Copenhagen

The Times reports that raw data on which the global warming climate data is based was dumped.

A page with links to all Climategate stories on Watts Up with That?, the 2008 Weblog award winner for best science blog.

Climategate: The BBC is still pretending not to notice

UN scientists turn on each other: UN Scientist Declares Climategate colleagues Mann, Jones and Rahmstorf ‘should be barred from the IPCC process’ — They are ‘not credible any more’

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The coverage of Climategate continues to expand. Amazingly, when searching Google for “climategate”, a term only coined a few days ago, there are 13,400,000 hits compared to 10,500,000 for “global warming.” The graph below from Google Trends also shows a rapid increase in people searching for “Climategate” (top graph, red line) to the point where it already is half the volume of Google searches for “global warming” (blue line). News coverage of Climategate (bottom graph, red line), on the other hand, is still anemic.

googleclimategate

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Next week the Senate will resume debate on Harry Reid’s version of Obamacare. Don’t expect too much out of this so-called debate. All the version of the healthcare bill being considered raise taxes, add to the debt, increase healthcare costs and leave millions of people uninsured. They also start the process of nationalizing healthcare via a government option (also known as the “public option”) that is taxpayer-subsidized and will underbid private insurance until most private insurers are out of business or confined to tiny segments of the market. obama_pelosi_reid

This healthcare bill is not about solving real issues, but instead is an ideologically-driven expansion of government power that will permanently change the United States. Once passed, it is almost certainly irreversible since any move to undo the damage will require 60 votes in the Senate. Given that the Obama administration is working hard on making more and more people dependent on government, it is hard to see how even stunning election defeats of the Obama Democrats will result in a 60 vote free market super majority in the Senate.

If it passes, Obamacare will have won not because 60 senators are ideologically dedicated to the cause. Some senators will support the bill for special provisions having nothing to do with healthcare that are inserted into the bill to gain their votes.

The true “debate” will not be about the benefits of the bill, but rather about backroom deals to see how much pork individual senators can gain in exchange for selling their votes. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu sold herself for $300 million and went on to the floor of the Senate to brag about it.

It doesn’t take a majority of dedicated socialists in Congress to expand the reach of the federal government through Obamacare and other initiatives. All it takes is enough corrupt politicians willing to sell their votes in exchange for supporting Obama, Reid and Pelosi.

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the King of Pork, may be unable to fully participate in the Obamacare feast because of poor health, but he provides a classic example of a politician going home to his constituency to shamelessly brag about diverting taxpayer money for local pork barrel projects. Here is “Big Daddy” as he refers to himself:

Voters have been reelecting politicians who bring home the pork while at the same time complaining about taxes, spending and the increasing reach of the federal government into more and more areas of our lives. They cannot have it both ways. Yet, the percentage of incumbents reelected make the House of Representatives look like the Supreme Soviet. A graph from the University of Texas shows that 90% or more of incumbents in the House are routinely reelected. The percentage of senators is more variable because they are elected by states rather than gerrymandered Congressional districts and there are only 33 up for reelection each time rather than 435 representatives.vce_conreelection_400

Maybe the outrage expressed by the Tea Party movement and more general discontent with Washington will change enough votes to throw out a lot of incumbents. Still most Congressional districts are gerrymandered to guarantee a majority to one party.

A better, more permanent way to make politicians in our legislature less focused on their reelection would be to pass a Constitutional amendment to limit the number of terms senators and representatives can serve. The Republican’s 1994 Contract with America supported such term limits, but given the votes required to pass a Constitutional amendment, term limits were never enacted. Some of the Republicans elected to Congress in 1994 voluntarily limited themselves to a few terms, but the only effect of this was that the most principled politicians left Washington and the career politicians in both parties were left to their usual ways.

To be effective, term limits must be mandatory at the federal level. Voluntary or state-specific term limits just weaken the advocates of principled politics. Many of our neighbors to our south have instituted term limits for their heads of state to prevent the re-occurence of strongmen that were so common for much of Latin America’s history.

Over 200 years ago, our first President, George Washington, set a precedent by stepping down after two terms in an age where no head of state relinquished power voluntarily. This precedent held until President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected four times. Roosevelt was president during unusual times (i.e. the Great Depression and World War 2), but our government should never become dependent on a single man no matter how severe the crisis. As a result of Roosevelt’s four elections, we passed a Constitutional Amendment in the 1940s to limit our presidents to two terms.

There are two ways of initiating amendments to the Constitution. Two thirds of both Houses of Congress can initiate an amendment. But an amendment can also be initiated if two thirds of all state legislatures support it. This second method would lead to a constitutional convention and has never been utilized. If such a convention were to become a possibility, in all likelihood, Congress would act and support the amendment.

Congressional term limits are now essential for preserving America’s system of government and for reducing the level of corruption. To win their votes, the Tea Party movement and all Americans concerned about power and corruption in Washington should require candidates for Congress and state legislatures to support term limits.

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hondurasOn Sunday, Nov. 29 Honduras will be electing a new president. Why should you care? Well, in June the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court legally removed Manuel Zelaya from office when he attempted to hold a referendum to allow him to run for another term as president. Honduras, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, has faced sanctions and criticism for standing up for democracy and against the socialist/communist wave that has swept across other Latin American countries.

From 1963 to 1981 Honduras was run by military dictators and, when it returned to democracy, Hondurans wanted to make sure that it would not return to an authoritarian government. The Honduran constitution limits a president to one term and prohibits a sitting president from taking action to extend his rule. Zelaya, who is an ally of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, violated the constitution when trying to hold a referendum to allow him to run for a second term and Honduras’ legislator and Supreme Court stopped him and replaced him with Roberto Micheletti, who, as President of the Honduran Congress, was next in line for the presidency. Micheletti is a member of Zelaya’s party and is not running in Sunday’s election.

This all seems very straightforward and the government and people of Honduras should be applauded for standing up to a president who overstepped his constitutional authority.

Unfortunately for Honduras, this is not how the United States and most Latin American countries viewed the removal of Zelaya. It is not surprising that Zelaya’s ally Hugo Chavez, who printed and shipped the ballots for the referendum, and Cuban dictator Raul Castro would support Zelaya. It could also be expected that Chavez’ puppets and allies in Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador would support Zelaya.

Journalists around the world promptly portrait Zelaya’s removal as a “military coup” and other Latin American countries bought into this storyline. The Obama administration also decided to side with Zelaya for four month until they backed out of being on the side of Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro.

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and suffered from sanctions for the past few months for standing up to the socialist/communist forces that Hugo Chavez has unleashed across the region. Hondurans hope that Sunday’s election will put an end to the difficulties they have experienced. Hopefully, the Obama administration will support Honduras and work with democratic Latin American governments to re-establish normal relations and trade with Honduras.

The Wall Street Journal has covered this story well. Here is an article written on the eve of the election.

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