The Politics behind Global Warming

Thursday, July 30, 1998

Without embarrassment, Vice President Al Gore went to the climate change meeting in Kyoto, Japan, last winter and said that “we have reached a fundamentally new stage in the development of human civilization.” This new stage is a crisis stage, and its “spiritual roots” are “pridefulness and a failure to understand and respect our connections to God’s earth and to each other.” Gore was talking about the emission of greenhouse gas. Worrying about it is the latest religion. But as Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal said, the scary part is that Gore really believes this stuff. This is a religion most decidedly not separated from the state, and therein lies both the danger and the opportunity. Fanatics are dangerous because nothing deters them. At the same time, Gore is so much the true believer that his fanaticism could put his political future at risk.

Environmentalists believe that greenhouse emissions will cause global warming. The most important such gas is carbon dioxide—produced by burning oil, coal, and natural gas. The U.S. delegation went to Kyoto pledging to cut these emissions to 1990 levels, but we soon yielded to environmental fanaticism by accepting an even stricter standard. (Al Gore and the U.S. press called this “flexibility,” showing how important control of the rhetoric really is.) Now we are committed to reducing gases to 7 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. Developing countries wisely did not sign on. If complied with immediately, the treaty would plunge the United States into a depression. Its drastic curbs on energy use—perhaps reducing it by as much as one-third—would throw millions of people out of work. The real goal of the treaty is to give the federal government an excuse to raise taxes and to set stricter appliance and auto efficiency standards.

It’s said that the Senate won’t ratify, so don’t worry. Indeed, before the conference the Senate voted unanimously that developing countries must sign on if the treaty is to be acceptable. But 130 countries did not do so, and, together, they are expected to cause over half the global emissions within a few years. In seeking peace with the environmentalists, then, the Clinton administration yielded to extremism, and after Kyoto it was difficult to find any politician on the record as supporting the treaty. It has the beneficial effect of reconstituting the old Reagan anticommunist coalition, including libertarians, labor rank and file, and conservatives of both neo and paleo stripe. Even Dick Gephardt refused to endorse the treaty as it stands. It’s “a work in progress,” he said.

Nonetheless, although it’s true that the treaty won’t be ratified any time soon, it can be kept on hold in the Oval Office. A number of other treaties are likewise waiting in the West Wing: the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Law of the Sea Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Basel Convention on Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes. Clinton could start implementing Kyoto surreptitiously. He could use the Clean Air Act—particulate matter/ozone standards promulgated by the EPA last year. Other regulations can be brought into play, requiring sharp increases in fuel efficiency for automobiles. Appliance standards can be ratcheted upward. The alternative energy subsidies doled out at the time of the 1970s energy crisis will be back with us. Five billion dollars in tax breaks and subsidies are planned to promote solar power, electric cars, wind power, and so on.

Most greenhouse gases are the work of nature, not of man. And most of the tiny recorded rise in temperature in this century took place before World War II, contradicting current global warming theory.

Finally, trade regulations can and will be used to twist the arms of Third World countries and get them to join in the next round of the treaty, late in 1998. Countries will be lured with foreign aid bribes and threatened with trade sanctions if they decline to go along with the American position. And remember, all this will happen with little or no public scrutiny.

So, Al Gore and his enviro-fanatics could still prevail, absurd though their claims are. One danger is that Republicans will persist in their feeble response. Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who attended the Kyoto meeting, characterizes the GOP position this way: “We accept that the environment is going to hell. But it’s too expensive to fix.” Conceding the facts and responding as penny-pinchers is of course the way Republicans have been trained to behave in many situations, and they seem to enjoy it. It is the position that the political class in Washington wants them to adopt: Concede the moral high ground and don the green eyeshade.

Republicans should above all insist that the scientific claims of the global warmers are devoid of all merit. In this, as in other areas (AIDS, ozone hole, acid rain), science is completely overshadowed by politics. In brief, the science shows that most greenhouse gases are the work of nature, not of man; most of the tiny recorded rise in temperature in this century took place before World War II and contradicts current global warming theory.

The Kyoto conference achieved an anti-American outcome and was designed to do so. The treaty provides that the United States will experience hardships that other industrial countries will avoid. The United Nations provided the institutional framework for this outcome, but notice that we deliberately used the United Nations, not the other way around. American officials realized that if they were to do what the enviros want—get the price of gasoline up to $3 a gallon and reduce energy use by one-third, among other things—this could more easily be attained in a U.N. forum than by the Democratic Party. If we are to be loaded down with tax increases, better that anonymous foreign bureaucrats take the blame than the Clinton White House.

Remember, emissions must be reduced below 1990 levels. That baseline was carefully chosen. Emissions in Germany and the Soviet Union were still very high in 1990. Germany had just swallowed up East Germany, then still using inefficient coal-fired plants. Now that they have been modernized and incorporated into Germany proper, the demand that emissions must be reduced below 1990 levels becomes, for Germany, a painless exercise in anti-American moralizing. The same goes for Russia. In the last eight years, economic activity in the former Soviet Union has fallen by about one-third. Today, therefore, Russia is way below its old emissions levels—although not because it has followed environmentalist prescriptions. Britain has shifted from coal to North Sea oil and gas, so that it, too, is safely below its former emission levels.

France also escapes. All along, that country has relied on nuclear power, which is clean and does not emit greenhouse gases. The United States could follow suit and replace old power plants with nuclear ones. But needless to say, our home-grown enviros rule that roost, too. Nuclear power has been thoroughly demon-ized (even though, as France has shown, it is clean and harmless), and it will not be revived.

The Chinese deserve our thanks for standing firm and refusing to join in the folly. Understanding that this was nothing but a plan to curtail economic growth, they told U.S. officials to come back and see them in fifty years.

Let us note the political strategy that will be pursued in trying to get the Senate to go along. First, politicians will be nudged with the bogus claim that “the American people” are mightily concerned about global warming. Even before Kyoto, the New York Times concocted a poll finding that 65 percent of those polled (by telephone) believe the United States should take steps to cut emissions right now, “regardless of what other countries do.” The bogus nature of these polls, and the political aims of the organizations that conduct them, must be made explicit. The newspaper avoided publishing the wording of its questions and the sequence in which they were asked. But it is clear that human agency global warming was presented as a fait accompli, with all scientific controversy excised.

People phoned at home are easy prey to cultural intimidation. The immediate thought is likely to be that the pollster has your number and, who knows, might even call your boss if you say the “wrong” thing. (Pollsters assure us that they do not know the identities of those phoned, but of course when you are dragged away from dinner by a caller from the New York Times you don’t think about that.) As a result of this intimidation—suddenly someone wants to know what you think of global emissions and greenhouse gases—people are alert for cues as to the “right” answer and are only too happy to provide it.

Example: Without the agreement, ice caps will melt and “huge lowland areas in the United States, including big portions of central Florida, could be completely flooded.” (Now do you think the Senate should ratify? Duh.) Actually, that wasn’t the New York Times but Bill Clinton on the evening news, engaging in pure demagoguery. Pollsters might now use those same words, preceded by “The President of the United States says that if the treaty is not ratified . . .” The point is that, depending on the wording, any public opinion can be elicited. Like a good conjurer, the New York Times had us looking the wrong way with its irrelevant pollster patter (“a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points”) but preserved a careful silence about the factual basis and precise wording of the questions.

Such polls function to manufacture opinion where none exists and, in particular, to claim a popular mandate for the preferred policies of the political class. A way has been found to impute a superior wisdom to the very people whose ignorance is privately relied on. Democracy triumphs again! The college educated are the most susceptible to these techniques, as the New York Times reported. (“Better educated people are most likely to favor early action by the United States. Fully three-quarters of college graduates favor acting even without a binding treaty.”)

The bogus nature of this poll was plain. If two-thirds of the people strongly support action, two-thirds of the Senate should be happy to ratify. Another newspaper more truthfully noted that public opinion has not yet been “formed” on this issue, however. So look for more propaganda intended to form it. This will take the form of news stories, not editorials. “Any meteorological event will be seized on, including blizzards,” said Fred Singer. News will also be manufactured out of new “studies” showing that global warming is getting ever more ominous. These studies will be paid for by the U.S. government, out of the $5 billion mentioned above, and among their most eager transmitters will be Peter Jennings of ABC News and his sidekick Ned Potter. Be ready for a new wave of lies, dressed up as science.