Español John Kerry has made tackling climate change his top priority as US Secretary of State. It’s a mission doomed from the beginning, and we should be glad to see Kerry fail.
The reasons for this are more about policy and the realities of government and less about science and ideology.
“Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy,” Kerry declared after the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in March. “Denial of the science is malpractice.”
He was joined in spirit by President Barack Obama’s administration last week, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a 645-page emission guideline on “carbon pollution,” mostly aimed at regulating coal-fired power plants out of existence.
“Once finalized, these limits alone will reduce US power sector emissions by as much as 30 percent by 2030,” wrote Secretary Kerry in a Financial Times op-ed piece on Tuesday, petitioning world leaders to do the same to help eliminate the scourge of “carbon pollution.”
Since he took over the reigns of the State Department in 2013, Kerry has mounted a crusade to call for government action on combating the changing of the climate. During his first major policy speech abroad, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Kerry devoted the entire 45 minutes to the “urgency of addressing climate change — particularly on the national security implications and the economic opportunities.”
Though he was temporarily sidetracked by the ongoing conflict and proposed US intervention in Syria in the latter part of 2013, Kerry refocused his energy on intervening in the world’s climate trajectory in early 2014. He went so far as to call the prospect of a changing climate a clear and present danger for citizens.
“You might not see climate change as an immediate threat to your job, your community, or your families,” said Kerry in a recent commencement speech at his alma mater Boston College, “but let me tell you, it is.”
While no one can doubt the sincerity of Kerry, his pursuit is both dangerous and wrong. The exaggerations are not supported by science and, most importantly, will easily inspire irrational and dangerous policies in the short term.
First, evoking images of flooded towns, deserted cities, mass water and crop shortages, and more wars and conflicts “leaping out at us like a scene from a 3D movie,” as Kerry claims, is not anywhere near factual. Climate change may be a real phenomena, but its representation in politics and media does not live up to scientific rigor.
The latest IPCC report itself predicts any such effect is long-term, as long as all other environmental factors stay constant, and will most likely take hundreds of years. The estimated temperature rise for the next 100 years is anywhere between 2 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Academy of Sciences. That’s an average of 1 degree per decade in the worst-case scenario, admitted as unlikely by most scientists involved in the IPCC’s latest report from 2013.
Considering the nature of the warming, the IPCC has consistently argued that energy use by human beings is a major, but not singular, cause. Scientists are certain humans increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but are uncertain as to exactly how much.
This fact is conveniently overlooked when Kerry sells a climate change plan to audiences around the world based upon the certainty of the human being’s chief polluter role.
Looking at the past, from 1880 to 2012, the temperature of the earth rose 0.85 degrees Celsius. It is highly likely the average annual increase in sea level was 1.7 millimeters for the same time period. For a flooding and climate catastrophe to transpire by Kerry’s prediction, several hundred years of planetary adjustments and changes would have to be compacted into several months. This isn’t going to happen.
Therefore, saying it is an immediate threat to anyone today is just inaccurate and not borne out by the science.
Second, this entire approach is based upon limits. Limits imposed from government and enforced by government. Financial resources will be dispensed to punish those who do not follow the direct mandates passed by the EPA. By focusing attention on legislative solutions, rather than business or market solutions, Kerry and his gang of regulators in Washington, D.C., are actively intervening to determine winners and losers.
For many citizens concerned about the environment, these words and actions are welcomed, but they may be doing more harm than good.
In the words of Danish economist and environmental activist Bjørn Lomborg, “[environmental] alarmism is leading to expensive and inefficient non-solutions.”
Businesses are already well aware of the danger such regulations will impose on their entire existence. While a plan to reduce global surface temperatures is noble, it is still unproven that any regulation of certain industries will reduce that factor.
Lomborg calculates the European Union’s climate proposal, costing US$250 billion every year for the next century, will likely reduce temperatures by a paltry 0.05 degrees Celsius.
It should be remembered that a temperature is not an inflation target, a budget, or even a job “saved or created.” It is merely a measurement affected by any number of factors, the very least of which is a particular government.
So while there may be some level of delusion about human beings’ role in shaping our planet on the part of those who oppose climate policies, there exists an even larger delusion accepted by those who realistically believe government can compel their way to a cooler planet.
It’s not a question of weighing the short-term and long-term costs. Billions of dollars which could be directed to food programs for impoverished countries, or overcoming deadly diseases which actively kill millions of children, are instead going to be focused on reducing human energy use, most of which is necessary for widespread growth and prosperity.
John Kerry and his allies may view their quest as a noble one, but they will necessarily neglect so many other pressing issues which can be more readily handled by diplomats.
The road to hell, they say, is paved with good intentions.