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Climate Control

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Last week, during an entertaining display of comedic jujitsu about the Obamas’ awkward “kiss cam” moment, Jon Stewart managed to subtly relitigate the 2000 Election, saying that had Al Gore won, the “Earth’s temperature would be maybe a few degrees cooler.”

It is tempting - and perhaps comforting - to dismiss Stewart’s snark-infused banter solely as sour grapes, both with a bygone election and President Obama’s failures. That, however, would be a mistake.

Stewart’s lightly disguised political commentary reflects a reinvigorated radical environmentalist movement that hopes to leverage the summer heatwave and drought into legislative action on global, climate, global climate disruption.

Just for fun, let’s imitate Joe Biden by taking Stewart’s joke “literally.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the first six months of 2012 was about 0.94 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, making it the 11th warmest on record. By Stewart’s climate calculations, if we were living in the hypothetical aftermath of an Al Gore administration, the first six months of 2012 would have been 2.06 degrees Fahrenheit BELOW the 20th century average.

What would the “enlightened class” have said about below average temperatures?

A Newsweek article from April 28, 1975, which declared “earth’s climate seems to be cooling down,” gives us an idea:

“If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic. ‘A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale,’ warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, ‘because the global patterns of food production and population that have evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century.’”

The thought experiment and historical déjà vu raises interesting questions about Earth’s “proper” temperature and climate. It also gets to the inherent assumption made by folks like Jon Stewart, Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore, Barack Obama and many others that we can, in fact, control the climate.

Last week, as if to prove Stewart’s pop culture routine is intimately tied to current policy discussions, the Washington Post’s Wonkblog highlighted two of many “zany geoengineering schemes” designed to control earth’s climate: artificial volcanoes and growing plankton in the ocean.

Ironically, this is a mirror image of the 1970s when scientists proposed “spectacular solutions” to global cooling “such as melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers.”

But as the infamous Newsweek article goes on to note, geoengineering solutions “might create problems far greater than those they solve.”

For those that accept the premise that we must act to prevent the climate from changing, they should apply that same caution to policy proposals. Whether they seek to limit carbon emissions through EPA regulations, cap-and-trade or carbon tax, they must ask whether they are creating problems far greater than they hope - emphasis on hope - to solve.

Even that question is premature, though.

First, they should tell us what they consider to be an appropriate global average temperature. I suppose a compelling case could be made for a similar temperature to the earlier 1940s, which was before the “grim reality” of global cooling. Or perhaps temperatures in the 1850s, before the Pennsylvania “oil rush,” are preferable.

Regardless of what the experts decide, they then have to tell us what atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (co2) is necessary to achieve their temperature goal. The disgraced Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wants to keep the atmospheric concentration of co2 under 550 parts per million (ppm), and various literature cites 450 ppm as necessary to “stabilize” the climate.

Yet, neither number directly addresses the temperature question - and for good reason.

A 2009 analysis found even aggressive action by the United States - an 83% reduction in co2 emissions by 2050 - would result in a “temperature reduction” of 0.09 degrees Fahrenheit. That is a far cry from Stewart’s vision of Al Gore’s America. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson confirmation that “U.S. action alone will not impact world CO2 levels” essentially renders the next question - how do you achieve the goal - meaningless.

So, when it comes to global temperatures, any U.S. plan to reduce carbon emissions is meaningless; and therefore there must be an ulterior motive. Remember that the next time you hear someone talking about a carbon tax.

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