Global Warming: A Step by Step Look At the Key Arguments – Part 5: Is it the proper role of the United States government to enact regulations on private companies and individuals to protect the environment?

In the last three sections I discussed whether global warming/climate change is a real problem.  I believe I have made a good case to say that it isn’t a problem.  For the rest of this discussion, however, we will assume that I am totally wrong and that man-made carbon dioxide emissions pose a serious environmental problem.  The next question then is what should be done to solve this problem?

As individuals, we each have our own choice to make.  We can elect to “go green”, to drive a Prius, or do as much or as little as we want in our private lives to reduce carbon emissions.  The debate here, as a citizen of the United States, is what role the United States government should have in this effort.

Before we discuss what the United States government can do, we should discuss if it the role of the United States government to do anything.  Just because there is a problem, it doesn’t therefore follow that it is the role of the United States government to solve the problem.  I believe strongly in limited government and capitalism.  I will discuss much more on my view of the role of government in future blogs.  One might conclude then that I believe that this is not the role of the United States government to do anything.  In this instance, though, I side with the liberals.  If this is a real problem, the United States does have a role in its solution.

Economics has the concept of externalities.  An externality is a cost born by someone who does not get the benefit.  For example, a factory makes money from a heavily polluting plant.  The people who live around the plant don’t get the benefit, the money, from the plant.  They do though pay a cost when they breathe polluted air.  Their health suffers, their enjoyment of life suffers, and very possibly their property values also suffer.  

I believe that government has the responsibility to try to reduce externalities.  This does not mean that government has to eliminate them.  It may not be possible to reduce the pollution from this factory to zero, or even if it is scientifically possible, the costs might be so prohibitive that it would force the factory out of business.  The key word here is reasonable.  The government has the responsibility to ask reasonably so external costs are not burdensome to others and that the cost of ameliorating the externality is not unreasonably burdensome to the business.

For example, in the instance of our polluting company, the company can spend $10,000 for filters that will remove 98% of the pollutants or it can spend $1,000,000 for filters that would remove 99% of the filters.  Unless one can clearly show that the ill effects of the 1% difference are substantial, it would be reasonable for government to regulate that the company must remove 98% of the pollutants.

What should the government do if there is no reasonable compromise solution?  For example, what if the pollutant is so toxic that even the smallest amount causes a severe health risk?  In this case the government should not allow any pollution, even if it does put the factory out of business.  Philosophically, I would say that eliminating the pollution is a cost of doing business.  If you can’t pay this cost, you shouldn’t be in business.  This is no different than paying the cost for labor or the cost for supplies.  

Society prospers when total benefits exceed total costs.  A beauty of capitalism is that it aligns this benefit to society with the benefit to the business.  The needs of society and the needs of business are in line as long as externalities are minimized so those getting the benefit pay the cost.

If carbon dioxide truly is a pollutant causing severe environmental harm, it is therefore the proper role of government to regulate it.  

In the next section, I will explore the options government has and what the effects of these options would be both to the economy and to affecting global warming/climate change.



Global Warming: A Step by Step Look At the Key Arguments – Part 4: Will global warming will cause catastrophic environmental consequences?

In the last two sections I demonstrated that whether global temperatures are rising, and if they are rising, is the cause man-made is far from certain. For this section, let us assume that they are true. Specifically, let us assume that global temperatures are rising due to excess greenhouse gasses emitted by human activity. The next question is what would be the results of this warming. In particular, would the results be catastrophic?

There have basically been two Armageddon scenarios proposed by global warming scientists. The first scenario is that the polar ice caps will melt resulting in higher sea levels which will put our coasts under water. Hollywood took this scenario to its extreme in the 1995 movie “Waterworld” where the seas rise so high that virtually the entire world is under water. The second scenario is climate change. Scientists have predicted that greenhouse gasses will increase virtually every nasty weather pattern imaginable including hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, and even freezing temperatures. Once again Hollywood has made a movie about this devastating climate change in the 2004 film “The Day After Tomorrow”

First, let us look at rising sea levels.  In Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” Gore predicted that sea levels would rise twenty feet causing coastal cities to sink beneath the sea leaving millions of people homeless.  He states this can happen in the “near future”.  Here is a short clip of what he predicts will happen:

 In 2007, the International Planet on Climate Change (IPCC), which is a strong supporter of global warming theory, predicted that sea levels would rise .59 to 2.0 feet over the next one hundred years.   There is no scientific evidence to support Gore’s inflated claims.  There is also strong reason to doubt even these predictions as other IPCC predictions have not come true, but assuming that this prediction is accurate, what would be the effect?  

For comparison, sea levels between 1870 and 2004 rose a total of 7.7 inches.   So far, the world has survived this without devastation.  Undoubtedly some very low-level coastal communities would experience flooding.  Even if we could prevent this by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to early 1800’s levels as President Obama has proposed, would it be worth it?  

The second scenario is climate change.  Whenever there is a natural disaster we hear it blamed on climate change due to global warming.  They blamed Hurricane Katrina on climate change.  Just last month California governor Jerry Brown blamed California’s drought on climate change.  I’ve even seen people blame sun spots on global warming.  A British-based science watchdog, Number Watch, documented a list of 756 conditions that have been blamed on Global warming:  I clicked randomly on a link from the list for flesh-eating disease and got this:

Let’s take a look at one of the most popular claims, that global warming causes an increase in hurricanes.  According to Time Magazine, an intense hurricane (Category 3 or greater) hasn’t hit land in the United States since Wilma in 2005.  This is the longest ever recorded time between hurricanes.  In 2007 IPCC said there was more than a 50% certainty that human activity was contributing to increased hurricane activity.  Now the IPCC has low confidence, 20%, that there is a relationship.

This of course won’t stop the next hurricane, and of course there will be a next hurricane, from being blamed on global warming.  If the weather is hotter, it proves global warming.  If the weather is colder, it proves global warming.   If there is too much rain, it proves global warming.  If there is too little rain, it proves global warming.  What doesn’t prove global warming?

Karl Popper is known as one of the greatest scientific philosophers of the twentieth century.  H promoted the concept of falsiability.  For something to be considered science, you have to be able to disprove it.  Falsiability has been the leading argument against teaching “creation science” in schools by saying it isn’t a science.

A scientific hypothesis must be testable and falsifiable. That is to say, a hypothesis must make predictions that can be compared to the real world and determined to be either true or false, and there must be some imaginable evidence that could disprove it. If an idea makes no predictions, makes predictions that cannot be unambiguously interpreted as either success or failure, or makes predictions that cannot be checked out even in principle, then it is not science.

Various forms of creationism fail on all three counts here. For example, “intelligent design” creationism makes no testable predictions at all – it makes no checkable claims about how to identify design, who the designer is, what the designer’s goals and motives are, what the mechanism of design is, or when and where the design takes place. In fact, it makes no positive claims whatsoever, other than the hopelessly vague assertion that some intelligent being played a role in the diversification of life. Unless additional details are provided – and advocates of ID have so far steadfastly refused to provide them – ID is untestable and unfalsifiable, and can thus be firmly excluded from the domain of science.

Other forms of creationism, such as the young-earth creationism derived from a literal reading of the Bible, do make some testable claims. However, when these claims do not pan out, YEC advocates typically seek to rescue them from falsification by adding additional qualifications that make them untestable. For example, when radiometric and other dating methods show the Earth to be older than the 6,000 years YEC predicts, advocates of this idea often respond by saying that the world was created with an “appearance of age” – that it came complete with false evidence of a history that never happened. No conceivable evidence could prove this idea wrong even in principle, making any version of creationism that relies on it unambiguously not science.

Personally, I think this argument against creation science is quite valid.  I would apply the same arguments to each of the 756 calamities blamed on global warming and to global warming itself.  What could disprove global warming?  Nothing can.  No matter what the result, it is attributed to global warming.  As stated in a previous segment in this series, when Einstein put forth his Theory of Relativity he made a series of predictions and stated that if these predictions could be validated it would support his theory and if they were not validated, it would disprove his theory.  When observations made during the Antarctic eclipse were in line with Einstein’s predictions, the world accepted his theory as being correct.

Without this key concept of falsifiability, how can everyone say that this is true science unless they are driven by political motives?

So getting back to this key question, will global warming will cause catastrophic environmental consequences?  In regards to sea levels rising, there might be an effect but the effect is infinitesimally small compared to what the doomsayers predict and highly unlikely to be catastrophic.  As to climate change, until someone comes up with a falsifiable theory, makes predictions, and then validates these predictions, I see no credence to this whatsoever.