The Carnegie Council on Ethics in International Affairs mentioned in its February newsletter an online dialogue it hosted this summer between its president, Joel Rosenthal, and Mathew Taylor, chief executive of RSA in London, on the best reasons for supporting the crusade against global warming, supposedly caused by human activity.
What’s RSA? The online exchange gives no clue, nor do the links to RSA itself. It seems mysterious. But some internet sleuthing gives the answer: it’s the Royal Society of Arts, whose motto is “Working to remove the barriers to social progress.” Its reach is pretty wide. Its website even advertises that its facilities in central London are available for fancy weddings, not only the party, but the ceremony, too, including “civil partnership” or “civil commitment ceremony.” Apparently that’s an example of removing barriers to social progress.
In any case, since anything that helps “social progress” (as they define it) is eligible for their concern, I guess they can talk about global warming, too. The little dialogue raises some points worth considering, not about the science, though Taylor can’t resist the usual demeaning smear of dissenting scientists as “the small vociferous minority.” Apparently both he and Rosenthal believe the demonstrably false mantra of the alarmists that “the science is settled.” So they talk instead about climate and human rights, justice for the poor, and stewardship of the earth, all, obviously, laudable goals. But the way they apply these worthy ends to “climate change” (formerly known as “global warming”) is perverse.
They argue that justice for the poor is best served if everyone in the developed nations reduces his “carbon footprint” and thus his consumption of energy, which is mostly created from fossil fuels. In fact the drastic cuts in energy called for by the alarmists would impoverish civilization across the globe and doom the poor to perpetual poverty. Only a vibrant economy will permit us all to adapt to climate changes that nature brings and about which we can do very little, since solar variations, ocean currents, and volcanic eruptions are quite beyond our control. The poverty of our ancestors left them at the mercy of climate changes, and the results were awful. We can do better, but not if we decimate our economies by chasing the illusion that we can affect the climate.
Their argument about stewardship of the earth is similarly misplaced. They think our obligation to be sparing in our use of resources and to avoid making the environment unhealthy, for the sake of future generations, requires us to combat global warming. But they are conflating quite different issues. There are good reasons to take care of our environment, but stopping global warming is not one of them. There are public policies, mostly sensible, addressing environmental health, but the policies meant to control warming are different and would be disastrous.
Taylor also claims that human-induced warming has caused rising sea levels and desertification, hence “climate change refugees” which is an issue of human rights. This is simply wrong. Sea level has been rising slowly and inexorably since the end of the last ice age, and the rate has not accelerated in a warming climate. More CO2 in the atmosphere should increase plant growth, and there is evidence that this is happening.
He also invokes the famous “precautionary principle,” that even if we don’t know for certain that global warming will produce epic disaster, we had better do all we can think of to stop it “just in case.” The risk may be slight, he says, but the potential danger is so great there are no limits to what we must do. But there are. Insurance premiums are always adjusted for the risk. We are being asked to reverse economic growth and all the benefits it has brought us in better health and longevity and cessation from grinding toil, all in the name of a possibility so remote that it may never happen.
And behind the debate is the stubborn fact that climate swings are natural and cannot be stopped. Flailing away at natural forces will get us nothing but wasted money and inattention to real human need.