Benjamin Burton

Global warming: Is it real? Are we causing it? And if we are — how do we fix it?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made two historic statements on global warming. The wording of these reports changed from “the evidence suggests human influence” (1996) to “global warming is attributable to human activity” (2001). Self-admittedly, this panel of scientists re-worded their reports to indicate certainty where there was little because they wanted to send a clear message to policymakers and influence the public. “Inconvenient truths” are
convenient for causing social change.

The Kyoto protocols of 1997 resulted from a meeting of nations in Japan, in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) on a multi-national scale. Each nation was given reduction goals. For the US: 7 percent. The burden of this reduction lay most heavily on developed nations as they emit the most GGE and are most capable of reducing GGE. Many developing countries are just beginning to rise from poverty and can’t afford to reduce GGE. For these countries, environmental concerns understandably take a back-burner to the quality of human life. The Kyoto discussions hit on this, and the resulting protocols were enacted in 2005. They are in effect today, along with several other international accords.

In the wake of President Trump’s June 1 announcement about withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Agreement, it is an important time of reflection to ask: If global warming is a real threat, would emission limits help? Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg, in his book “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” had a clear answer: “Yes, but there’s a much better way.” Lomborg provided a surprising perspective using his gift for assigning a numeric cost to global-scale problems. He estimated that following the Kyoto protocols to the letter would cost the world $150 billion a year, compared to the $80 billion a year that could give the entire third-world access to health, education, water and sanitation. Theoretically, these issues could be solved for half the price of the Kyoto protocols. Great — but how does this help combat global warming? His answer: Developed nations do emit the most GGE, but they are the only nations capable of negating greenhouse gas emissions long-term. Therefore, developed societies are not the enemy. They are the solution — and we need more of them.

Industrial societies emit ample carbon to grow their economies. China is still in an industrial-modern transition, has significant coal deposits and a fifth of the world’s population — it is the world’s largest emissions culprit. However, Chinese citizens are lifting out of the third world and will soon be able to combat GGE. Unless societies remain agrarian, they must grow industrially until capable of laying hold of technology that mitigates GGE. The way is forward, not backward.

Lomborg estimates that if global warming occurs according to IPCC projections, it will cost mankind $5 trillion per year, ironically hitting the third world hardest. Limiting emissions is vastly inefficient. We gain more by fostering economic growth and turning to new technologies and industrial practices. Developed nations can aggressively cut emissions, but in doing so, they essentially shoot their own foot. Lomborg shows that gently throttling back GGE is more effective over the long run than costly short-term regulation. We simply do not have the money to spend on renewable energy or on research and development if we cripple our industries with heavy e-regulation — and improving the quality of life for all peoples of this globe will indirectly lead to less GGE. This “forward investment” approach is the fastest and most humane philosophy for change.

Limiting GGE isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but solutions driven by tunnel vision do not help the world in a practical and humane way. Having an environmental conscience doesn’t justify throwing out economic responsibility. Reactive short-term cutbacks do not outshine long-term conscientiousness bolstered by economic growth.

Benjamin Burton grew up in La Grande, and has returned to the area recently to work as a controls specialist at Boise Cascade’s particleboard mill in Island City. His hobbies are backpacking, hunting, music and spending time with family.