A Word on Global Warming

Since moving to Minnesota 31 years ago I have seen an incredible range of ambient temperature. The lowest temperature I’ve witnessed was a December night about 25 years ago when it was –37 F (-38C). That was the night I learned a valuable lesson; that diesel engines shut down when it gets that cold. The highest temperature I’ve witnessed in Minnesota was +105 F (+40.5 C) about 10 years ago.

As I sit at my computer this Sunday morning and look at the snow on the ground, it is – 10 degrees Fahrenheit (- 23 C) outside my window. In this context of bone-chilling cold, this week the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change released a report indicating that it believes with 90 % certainty that the rising of global atmospheric temperatures is primarily due to the activity of humans. That certainty rating has risen to 90% from 65% when the same scientists met four years ago. The group consists of some 500 scientists and government representatives.

Like most of you, I’m not a scientist. I have to trust others to do the scientific research and hope that they are both accurate and credible in their findings. I would feel better about the group if they didn’t have the word “intergovernmental” in their name because I’m innately suspicious of the word “government,” no matter what prefix is attached to it. My life experience has taught me that governments have an agenda and they usually involve increased state control at the expense of individual rights. Given my skepticism, when journalistic sources like the Economist (a British Publication that has proven to be incredibly impartial over the years) analyze the work of these scientists and determine that we should be concerned about global warming, I sit up and take notice, despite the fact that there is a boiler in my basement that is going to cost me plenty when the next utility bill comes.

As a citizen of the world I am concerned. I realize that we may already have passed some sort of “tipping point” where it will be impossible to correct the situation. As an economist and realist, I’m not sure anything will actually be done to reduce CO2 emissions for at least fifty years. In the United States and other wealthy countries we have the ability, but perhaps not the will, to do something about CO2 emissions. However, nations in the developing world, the largest of which are China and India, might have the will, but don’t have the ability to do anything about global warming. I’ve been to China once and have been to India numerous times. The air pollution in both places is literally throat choking to the point of disbelief.

While the US has received a lot of flak for not signing the Kyoto Treaty and India and China have both signed, paper and ink is cheap. The fact is that neither of these developing industrial giants can economically afford to honor their pledge to reduce CO2 emissions. Both are highly industrialized with huge populations. Furthermore, their consumption and production of automobiles is just starting to take off, despite pungent pollution in major cities. No matter what reduction of CO2 emissions is accomplished by the developed countries, until both China and India have prospered enough to afford the existing technology to reduce pollution there is not much hope for a reduction of total worldwide CO2 emissions. It will be fifty years until the Chinese and Indians are able to afford and adopt the latest pollution reduction technology.

Scientists have a role; namely to tell us what is happening. Policy makers (Government) have the responsibility of listening to scientists and implementing necessary changes. Governments act slowly and sometimes irresponsibly. Given the fact that most governments are reactive rather than proactive and that the developing world can’t afford the technology, I’m not confident that anything will be done soon to significantly reduce the planet’s CO2 emissions.

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