by Kathleen Hartnett White
As the Obama administration prepares to leave for the U.N. climate treaty negotiations in Paris on Nov. 30, Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Kathleen Hartnett White outlines important climate questions:
Q: What are some ideas missing in the global warming policy conversation?
A: The official science driving global warming alarmism is based on models built to assume that natural climate variables are extremely sensitive to a relatively small increase in atmospheric CO2 from human activity. But facts on the ground contradict the climate models’ assumption.
Temperatures have not warmed as predicted by the models over the last 18 years. And extreme weather events have not been more frequent or more intense than in the 20th century.
The current concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere is around 400 parts per million. To put that in perspective, greenhouses inject CO2 to around 1200 parts per million to stimulate plant growth.
In previous geological eras, CO2 concentration was in the thousands of parts per million and plant life flourished. Many agronomists think that the currently much lower levels are almost starving plant growth.
Q: What are some of the benefits of carbon dioxide emitting energy resources?
A: The kind of energy available in fossil fuels – abundant, affordable, concentrated, versatile, reliable, controllable, storable – was and remains a necessary condition of monumental improvements in human welfare and economic growth that emerged around 1800. Since 1900 energy consumption rose 17 fold and gross world product rose 16 fold.
Synthetic materials, fibers, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and the like derived from fossil fuels represent 60 percent of all materials we use today. Before fossil fuels, all these materials had to be harvested from the natural world using millions and millions of acres.
From 1960-2007, the world population doubled from 3.1 billion to 6.7 billion, but food per person increased by 27 percent thanks to natural gas-based fertilizer and other fossil fuel inputs. Without fossil fuels, the amount of land needed to grow crops would have to increase by 150 percent.
And most don’t realize that a “carbon foot print” allows mankind to shrink its physical footprint. Wind and solar facilities can require land areas 100-1,000 times more than coal, natural gas or nuclear plants and also use far more steel, concrete, and other industrial materials than a coal or gas plant does per megawatt.
Q: You’ve talked about climate as being a ‘moral’ issue – what do you mean?
A: The growth from the Industrial Revolution is unique in all history in that the greatest benefits were gained by the poor and not the already rich elites. An enduring middle class emerged for the first time in human history around the time of the Industrial Revolution. The economic growth performed for the people and, not as always before, for the privileged.
Since 1800, the human life span has tripled and real income per person has increased 10-20 percent. Western countries have gained the most but the improvements in the material condition of human life is global in reach. The U.N. concludes more people have been released from acute poverty in the last 50 years than in the last 500 years.
Policies to supplant fossil fuels – without a fully comparable substitute proven at scale – are immoral.
Increased energy prices hurt middle and low income families the most. Germany’s green energy policies have made electricity “a luxury good” for the poor with average retail electric rates three times higher than the average U.S. rate.
Hundreds of thousands of homes can no longer afford electricity and have reverted to wood for home use. The UK is actually subsidizing purchase of wood burning stoves in their renewable fuel initiative. 1.3 billion people in the world still lack access to electricity. They don’t need subsidized solar panels – they need affordable, efficient, reliable electricity.