The Church Of Climate Panic

Posted: Feb 09, 2007 12:01 AM

Sophisticated people in Western societies don't stand in public and shout, "The end is near!" the way a nutty preacher does. They don't cut their scalps the way Shia Muslims do in a rite of self-flagellation to mark the Day of Ashura. They do none of these things, because they have the issue of global warming instead.

The planet is indeed getting warmer (by about .7 degrees Celsius during the 20th century), and carbon emissions are contributing to it. This is a problem that deserves study and debate about what realistically can be done about it. But it doesn't justify the bizarre panic that suggests the issue has become a trendy vehicle for traditional fears of the apocalypse and for rituals of guilt and expiation.

The latest assessment of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the Vatican of the Church of Climate Panic — prompted apocalyptic headlines worldwide. The New York Times dubbed it "a grim and powerful assessment of the future of the planet." Actually, the summary report was less grim than prior reports, but grimness is the only acceptable mood when it comes to climate change.

Christopher Monckton, a former adviser to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, points to the neglected data in the IPCC summary. It "more than halved its high-end best estimate of the rise in sea level by (the year) 2100 from 3 feet to just 17 inches." In his scare-documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore posited a catastrophic sea-level rise of more than 20 feet (feet, not inches).

Monckton notes that, "The U.N. has cut its estimate of our net effect on climate by more than a third," and, "It now thinks pollutant particles reflecting sunlight back to space have a very strong cooling effect." As for the increase in temperature, Monckton writes, the best estimate for the effect of the CO2 level reaching "560 parts per million, twice the level of 1750, was 3.5 C in the 2001 report. Now it is down to 3 C."

But no editors are going to run blaring headlines, "IPCC Climbs Down Slightly From Direst Predictions." The report was, in any case, crafted to avoid any such less-than-grim headlines. "I hope this report will shock people," said the chairman of the IPCC.

Shock tactics inevitably mean simplifying in an area of unimaginable complexity. No one knows how to create a reliable model of the planet's climate, and inconvenient anomalies muddy the story line of the warming zealots. From 1940 to 1975, the global temperature fell even as CO2 emission rose. Since 2001, global temperatures have only gone up a statistically insignificant 0.03 degrees Celsius. And in recent years, the oceans have actually gotten cooler.

None of this, obviously, is to deny global warming, but to introduce a note of caution about the calls for individual and collective self-denial that accompany the warming panic. If people feel better about using compact fluorescent light bulbs, so be it, but schemes to mandate drastic reductions in carbon emissions based on avoiding an entirely speculative calamity are folly.

Even the Kyoto Treaty, which would have only a slight effect on global climate even if fully implemented, is utterly unrealistic. Canada ratified the treaty in 2001, notionally committing itself to reducing its carbon emissions 6 percent from their 1990 level. But from 1991 to 2003, Canada's emissions increased 24 percent. That great climate scold, Europe, has been increasing its emissions at a rate faster than ours. China will soon pass the U.S. as the world's greatest polluter and is robustly unrepentant about it.

The sensible ways to try to mitigate global warming and counteract its effects in the long run are the development of new energy technologies in the West, as well as economic development and aid programs for those Third World countries that are most vulnerable to disease and sea-level rises. These solutions won't, however, satiate the deeper atavistic urges behind the global-warming panic. For that, people will have to head to their nearest place of worship.