The Bear’s Lair: With Coolidge principles, we can all keep cool

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Physical Science report AR6, released August 9, raised the usual calls for panic and draconian action from that majority of the media and the left for whom this is a religion. Yet on examination, its statistics were decidedly unalarming, and suggest we can easily address the modest long-term problem of global warming. A Coolidge-era approach, with minimal government, maximum market involvement and an absolute refusal to panic seems most likely to keep us prosperous and cool.

The Financial Times’ headline was typical in its reaction to the report. “Global warming will hit 1.5C by 2040, warns IPCC report” it said. An absolutely true statement, yet utterly misleading. An innocent, or one of the large number of FT readers religiously committed to the “woke” agenda, would suppose that we have reached some kind of tipping point, and that the world is due to warm up by nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 19 years. That, if true, would be genuinely alarming, and might go some way to justifying the general level of panic, and the outlandishly economically damaging measures the world is proposing to take.

However, as often with the FT and always with climate change reports, you must read the small print. The IPC measures global warming from the 1850-1900 average, a period in which the world was distinctly chilly, not long removed from its Maunder Minimum when the River Thames froze over and they roasted oxen on the ice. According to the measurements in this report, which include the fudging discovered during the “Climategate” scandal 10 years ago, the temperature in 2011-20 averaged 1.09 degrees Celsius (1.09C, in the FT’s shorthand) above the 1850-1900 average, and is currently increasing by 0.19C per decade. Given the 24.5-year interval between the midpoint of 2011-20 and 2040, that would give a further temperature increase of 0.47C by 2040, making the temperature in that year 1.56C above the 1850-1900 average. Since the IPCC’s target is a maximum temperature increase of 1.5C from the baseline, we are indeed less than two decades from exceeding the IPCC’s target, as the FT claims.

The IPCC’s target is however absurd. We have already experienced three quarters of the temperature rise to the IPCC’s target, not that any of us can remember the icy January mornings of 1875, and the further rise to that target is insignificant, and quite unable to make any noticeable change in our daily lives unless politicians force us to incur massive costs to avoid it. Any target for global warming should be measured from today’s temperatures, which are those we are currently experiencing, and to which our lifestyles and economy are already attuned. If you think about it, a sudden change in global temperatures to that 1875 baseline, being three times as much cooling as a move to the IPCC’s target is a warming, would be far more damaging to our lives and economy – for one thing it would make global agriculture substantially less productive, probably producing widespread starvation.

There is however good news in this IPCC report. Compared with the previous report, issued in 2014, the estimated temperature increase to 2100 on the “high emissions” scenario has declined from 4.0C above the 1850-1900 baseline to 3.5C above it. Since we are already 1.09C above the baseline, that means the realistic “worst case” scenario for 2100 is only a further rise of 2.41C. If that occurred, we would have to adapt substantially, but with 79 years to do it in we have plenty of time. Realistically, even that increase is fairly unlikely; the current IPCC estimate of 0.19C per decade would give us only an additional 1.52C by 2100, a level to which we can adapt with only modest changes in life patterns. It is the extreme cases that are worrying, of 5C or more of warming on top of what we have already had, and those extreme cases appear to have been ruled out. Panic is thus definitively NOT called for.

The one factor that gives some credibility to climate change alarmists is that warming appears to have accelerated in the last 50 years – the average temperature increase per decade since 1875 is 0.08C compared to the 0.19C per decade that we are experiencing currently. However, buried in the detail of the IPCC report is the reason for this – the largest factor causing temperatures to decline, roughly second equal after carbon emissions in the overall rankings of factors affecting temperature, is global sulfate emissions. Until around 1970, these were plentiful, from coal burning of all kinds, in power stations, steam engines and factories. Those massive sulfate emissions may have polluted, but they also thereby dampened the temperature increase effect of carbon emissions. That rendered the overall anthropogenic temperature increase small before 1970, probably around 0.05C per decade.

Then the environmentalists got going, whining about sulfate emissions and imposing gigantic costs on the world economy, forcing coal users to install expensive “scrubbing” technology. As a result of environmentalists’ efforts since 1970, not only has U.S. productivity growth slowed from about 2.5 percent annually to about 1.5 percent (the fall began after 1973, thus identifying the environmentalists favorite piece of legislation, the Clean Air Act of 1970, as the main culprit) but also the pace of global warming has more than trebled. This has had only a modest effect on our welfare directly but has imposed further massive costs on the global economy as the environmentalists have been allowed yet again to ride roughshod over the everyday needs and living standards of ordinary people.

Environmentalists are also responsible for preventing us from adopting an economically optimal approach to climate change. Since the problem almost entirely involves carbon emissions, it could most easily be solved by a carbon tax, that would make carbon emissions more expensive and encourage the use of technologies that avoided them or removed them from the atmosphere. However, this solution is of no interest to environmentalists, because it does not allow them to issue micro-managing regulations, that add costs without in many cases providing significant assistance in solving the problem.

For example, the solar power industry could provide a partial solution to climate change, except that it involves installing solar panels that are now made in Chinese factories powered with filthy coal-fired power stations, which China is building at a rapid rate. Thus, regulations mandating solar power may increase rather than decrease atmospheric carbon. The same applies to regulations mandating electric vehicles, which draw from the already stretched electric power grid, prolonging the life of carbon-emitting power stations, and the batteries for which require highly polluting lithium to be mined in carbon-emitting ways.

Nuclear power, with no carbon emissions, could help solve the climate change problem, except that environmentalists have an irrational hatred of nuclear power – if they were removed from influence, we would probably have nuclear fusion power by now, safer than conventional fission and entirely free from carbon emissions.

The scientists are making progress on carbon recapture, a technology that would allow us to absorb atmospheric carbon and bury it, thereby reducing the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentration and eliminating its warming effect. There are already indications that the environmental lobby will prevent the deployment of this technology.

The Covid-19 epidemic has also given the environmentalists new regulatory fantasies; they have proposed climate change lockdowns, by which industry and travel could be forbidden and we could be trapped in our homes, as during the pandemic, to reduce our carbon emissions. As with other regulatory fantasies, this would be enormously damaging to our economic well-being, but you should not assume it cannot happen.

Looked at overall, environmentalism has been far more damaging to human welfare than global warming. It should be stopped, initially by a massive re-education campaign funded by the oil companies and the remaining pathetic remnant of the once vibrant coal industry. If that does not work, environmentalists’ own favorite weapon, of restrictive regulations should be employed, perhaps forbidding them to propagate their pernicious doctrines either in the media or to government officials. That would violate the First Amendment but violating the Constitution has never seemed to trouble these people.

To fight global warming, we must, appropriately you may think, adopt the approach of President “Cool Cal” Coolidge.

“If you can see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”

That approach, of ignoring the problem altogether, would apply very well to combating climate change, and we would benefit hugely by the world’s governments adopting it.

(The Bear’s Lair is a weekly column that is intended to appear each Monday, an appropriately gloomy day of the week. Its rationale is that the proportion of “sell” recommendations put out by Wall Street houses remains far below that of “buy” recommendations. Accordingly, investors have an excess of positive information and very little negative information. The column thus takes the ursine view of life and the market, in the hope that it may be usefully different from what investors see elsewhere.)