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A Centrist on Global Warming

By Neil Chernoff

I am not what anyone would call a rabid environmentalist, but I find myself increasingly bothered by global warming. This morning there was a Washington Post article about millions of acres of Canadian forest being decimated by Mountain Pine beetles. The reason why is because warmer winters are allowing the beetles to exist where cold winters previously killed them.

Here is what bothers me. If we are seeing significant changes in the environment already, then we have passed the “tipping” point. If we are actually past the tipping point, a slow down in the growth of greenhouse gases is not enough. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally. Agreements like the Kyoto Protocol do not reduce greenhouse gases; they merely slow the growth.

Given that I live in Washington, DC, where most things are more political than real, I have been wondering whether it’s a real crisis or not because the politicians are not acting like it’s a real crisis. The biggest proponent of Kyoto has been Al Gore. How much does he believe in Kyoto? Not enough to get Bill Clinton to submit it to Congress for ratification. Its pretty clear that Al Gore believes in global warming only to the extent it supports his personal political agenda.

If we really believe in global warming and that the changes are already underway, then the answers are far more radical than Kyoto. Here are some thoughts about the types of issues that need to be resolved:

  • Industrialization – Only about 30% of the world’s population lives in what we consider to be a modern industrialized state. Countries like India and China are rapidly becoming fully industrialized. Between these two countries, they have 750 coal-fired power plants either in development or planned. If these countries are unwilling to find ways to minimize greenhouse gasses as they industrialize, nothing the rest of the world does will help. They must be willing to parallel efforts in the industrial world.
  • Deforestation – We continue to lose valuable rainforest in Africa and South America. In fact, Brazil’s burning of the Amazon releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases. If Brazil and the Saharan countries are not willing to change their patterns of deforestation, we will lose much of the carbon dioxide sink these forests provide, spurring the warming process.
  • Population – For several decades there has been an argument about how much population the Earth’s biosphere can sustain. Most of the discussion has been around food and raw materials. It seems as if the real determinant of population capacity is the production of greenhouse gases. If we are past the tipping point, then global population needs to be reduced significantly.
  • North/South Immigration – There is significant immigration each year from the non-industrial south to the industrial northern countries. This substantially increases greenhouse gas production as we move people from low emissions countries to high emissions countries where they become part of the problem. If we are to reduce emissions we have to slow immigration as part of a process of reducing population.

If we have a problem then we need to get a handle on all of these issues. Nothing less actually moves us back from the tipping point. I realize that none of these issues is popular. In fact most of the solutions are heretical to the very groups that have sounded the warnings of global warming.

This brings me back to politics. This is the test of the reality of global warming. If we believe in global warming, them we have to be willing to consider unpopular solutions. Any politician who is unwilling to tackle these issues either does not really believe in global warming or is a hypocrite more interested in his or her own well being than the planet’s well being.

Greenhouse gases are not political. They are either a real problem with hard solutions or they are not real.