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Kyoto heat waves hammer the poor

By Paul Driessen
web posted May 16, 2005

Recent articles about global warming in ultra "progressive" Mother Jones magazine reflect a meltdown in fundamental principles of science, economics, ethics and democracy.

The Earth has warmed slightly since the Little Ice Age ended 150 years ago, and humans today are no doubt exerting some influence on our climate. But aside from computer-generated worst-case scenarios about temperatures, storms, melting Arctic icecaps and rising sea levels, there is little to support theories of calamitous global climate change.

Models and clamorous claims of climate catastrophe are not evidence, especially when satellite and weather balloon data show only slight atmospheric warming. So MJ writer Chris Mooney offered a new tactic.

ExxonMobil Corporation's "products and policies are a slow-moving assault on poor people of color," who are "on the front lines of climate change," he asserted.

Thousands of companies produce or burn fossil fuels to power our modern societies. Why single out ExxonMobil? Because the company has not been bullied into agreeing that a climate emergency exists, believes more research is needed, and supports public policy institutes that likewise perceive no evidence of a looming planetary disaster.

Scary stories about a climate Armageddon are based on extreme predictions that temperatures could increase 6 to 10 degrees Celsius (11 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of this century. But most scientists and models say a 1 or 2 degree increase is far more likely.

It's not climate change that will hammer people of color – but the purported solution to this hypothetical problem: raising energy prices (through taxes), to "persuade" us to use less energy.

Recent oil price increases affect poor people far more severely than middle and upper class families. Imagine what would happen if prices increased another 50, 100 or 200 percent.

Studies by the US government and minority business groups have calculated that the Kyoto climate treaty could cost 1.3 million jobs in US black and Hispanic communities. Average minority family incomes could plummet by $2,000 and families could be forced to pay a much larger portion of this reduced income for food, transportation, heating and air conditioning.

Economic output in states with large minority populations could plunge by $5 billion or more. Their tax revenues could fall by several billion dollars a year, making less money available for welfare and unemployment benefits precisely when they are most needed.

But even this would keep average global temperatures from rising by just 0.3 degrees less than if the treaty were never implemented. That's why climate alarmists now seek "vast reductions" in total power use and emissions – 50 per cent to 80 per cent less than now, by doubling or tripling taxes on energy. This would cripple developed nation economies and devastate poor families. Not being able to afford AC during heat waves would likely prove fatal to many.

These actions would also send tsunami-sized ripples across the Atlantic and Pacific. Because the United States ' powerful economic engine drives nearly 25 per cent of global trade, poor countries that depend on exports would close down factories and turn millions of workers into beggars. Families would be forced to continue burning wood and dung, further impairing economic growth and people's health.

Environmental purists have long opposed coal and gas-fired electrical generation (global warming), hydroelectric projects (damming rivers) and nuclear power (radioactive wastes). This leaves energy-deprived poor countries with little recourse, except a vague promise of eco tourism to compensate for lost economic opportunities.

Now even that is under assault by radical greens. "A growing army of concerned individuals" has decided that, "although travel to Third World countries may bring unexpected boosts to local economies and even stimulate an increase in eco-friendly tourism, the environmental price can no longer be justified," reports UK 's Guardian and Observer. "The government should take the decision away from people," to prevent climate change, one eco-soldier intoned.

Destitute Third World citizens might be excused if they aren't quite so enthusiastic about yet another effort that keeps them mired in poverty and disease. Two billion of them still don't have electricity. They would like to see the "precautionary principle" applied in a way that protects them from these very real dangers, says India's Barun Mitra, until alarmists prove their climate disaster theories are correct, and their "solution" won't be equivalent to cutting off a patient's leg out of fear that a cut might someday cause gangrene.

Returning to ExxonMobil, radical greens detest it because of its support for think tanks that keep raising these issues, disputing the "overwhelming scientific consensus" that Mooney claims exists on global climate change, and preventing US ratification of the Kyoto treaty.

But there is no consensus. Over 18,000 scientists have signed a petition stating there is "no convincing scientific evidence" that greenhouse gases are causing "catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate." Moreover, the Science magazine article so often cited in support of this supposed consensus has been debunked by several expert analysts.

For example, Dr. Benny Peiser, senior science lecturer at John Moores University in Liverpool, UK, analyzed the same 1,000 documents that Dr. Naomi Oreskes originally reviewed – and found that only one-third backed the supposed consensus, and only 1 per cent did so explicitly. As of this writing, Science has refused to publish his analysis.

Furthermore, ExxonMobil's contributions to climate skeptic organizations (like the ones where this author is a senior policy advisor) pale by comparison to what liberal foundations give to alarmist groups. Exxon donated a total of $5 million to the top 18 free market institutes pilloried by Mooney.

By contrast, foundation grants to 11 of the most prominent global warming advocacy groups totaled $23 million in 2002, and Bill Moyers' Schumann Foundation gave $5.5 million in 1999 to American Prospect, where Mooney interned to learn his trade as an "investigative" journalist.

(Mooney doesn't think much of Dr. Michael Crichton and his best-selling, amply footnoted novel State of Fear, either. "Crichton doesn't have a clue about climate science," this 20-something Yale English major sneered, in reference to the 60-something Harvard MD whose expertise in matters of science is legendary. The doctor has spent years studying global warming and modern environmentalism, which is why he can safely say "the evidence for many environmental issues is shockingly flawed and unsubstantiated.")

Most important, Mooney's articles are a clumsy attempt to muzzle skeptical voices on this vital public policy matter. They assault a fundamental principle of democracy: open, robust debate.

"The widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public," the United States Supreme Court has noted. "Contributing honestly to the public debate is ethical," says John Guineven, associate professor of public relations at Elon University. "Doing anything to constrain debate, to keep voices from being heard, is unethical."

As to climate change, it isn't even clear yet "whether mankind is the perpetrator, Mother Nature is an accomplice, or vice versa," notes University of Alabama Professor Roy Spencer , a leading authority on satellite measurements of global temperatures. "Ultimately, the problem will be solved through energy technology research, which necessarily requires strong economies that can afford to fund that research, which in turn requires access to affordable energy now."

That's why this debate must continue, and why real corporate social responsibility means helping to ensure that critical policy decisions are made in the same rough-and-tumble atmosphere that surrounded the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and Congress of Racial Equality, and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power ∙ Black death.

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