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Welcome to the Carbon Cult

Hot-headed they may be, but the Thomas Friedmans of our world aren't exactly "on fire."

By 9.19.11

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In a recent New York Times op-ed, Thomas Friedman called Republican presidential hopefuls Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann "crazy" because they doubt man-made global warming. But his argument smacks of the desperation of the Cult of Algore as it sinks under the weight of science, Solyndra, and logic.

After beginning with his ad hominem attack, always the refuge of those who know they're about to lose an argument, Friedman makes one error of logic after another.

First, he argues that Perry's rejection of man-made climate change is crazy because Texas "is on fire." In other words, the fact that there is hot weather means that there is man-made climate change. This sort of example, while dramatic, confuses a short-term situation with a long-term phenomenon.

But, while risking committing the logical error of "appeal to authority," on which more in a moment, I might point Mr. Friedman to a NY Times article from last year in which the author writes, "Of the festivals of nonsense that periodically overtake American politics, surely the silliest is the argument that because Washington is having a particularly snowy winter it proves that climate change is a hoax…" In other words, a brief event does not prove anything about multi-generational trends. The author of that article was one Thomas Friedman who was, to be sure, still arguing for man-made global warming, but using essentially the opposite of his current argument.

Next, Friedman offers a "false cause" along with an unfalsifiable proposition, arguing that instead of global warming, the phenomenon should be called "global weirding" because "the weather gets weird." In other words, if the weather gets "weirder" than before, Friedman will attribute it to man-made factors. People tend to forget past weather except for the most destructive storms, and so almost any period of "weird" weather will likely strike many as weirder than the past. If he wants to talk about weird, he must use quantifiable data, such as frequency and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes -- for which the data show no correlation with atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Now back to "appeal to authority": Friedman proceeds to say "this is high school physics,", referring to an article on a website of the far-left organization, ThinkProgress, in which a climatologist explains that a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor "so the effects of the drought are magnified by higher evaporation rates."

Beyond the fact that anyone can write anything on a website (and I ask you to check my data below), Friedman has a couple of big problems here. First, he neglects to mention that the same climatologist says just prior to the words he quotes that "We often try to pigeonhole an event, such as a drought, storm, or heat wave into one category: either human or natural, but not both. What we have to realize is that our natural variability is now occurring on top of, and interacting with, background conditions that have already been altered by long-term climate change." In other words, nowhere in the material that Freidman is using for evidence does his quoted authority actually say that Texas's troubles are primarily or even substantially man-made.

More importantly, Friedman conveniently ignores the most recent science related to climate change, a story that consumers of "mainstream" media certainly have not heard: New data from NASA satellites show that our atmosphere is trapping much less heat than any of the alarmist models predict, implying much less future warming than Algore and Thomas Friedman would like to scare us into expecting.

As long as Friedman wants to appeal to authority, I might suggest a more credible one: On the same day in which Thomas Friedman's opinion was printed in the New York Times, Dr. Ivar Giaever, a winner of the Nobel Prize in physics (and who endorsed Barack Obama in 2008), resigned from the American Physical Society following that group's claim that it is "incontrovertible [that man-made] global warming is occurring."

His letter to the APS gets right to the point of how science has been perverted by the Carbon Cult: "In the APS it is ok to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible? The claim (how can you measure the average temperature of the whole earth for a whole year?) is that the temperature has changed from ~288.0 to ~288.8 degree Kelvin in about 150 years, which (if true) means to me is that the temperature has been amazingly stable, and both human health and happiness have definitely improved in this 'warming' period." It's no wonder that Giaever realizes that "global warming has become a new religion," and that "We frequently hear about the number of scientists who support it. But the number is not important: only whether they are correct is important."

Friedman is going somewhere with his scare tactic argument, regardless of its obvious weaknesses, somewhere much more expensive than Beverly Hills or Bora Bora and just as unaffordable to most Americans.

After saying that the critics of the economics of green jobs "have a point -- sort of," Friedman finds the magic potion for his particular cult, an idea that can create "green jobs" and reduce carbon emissions. And all it takes is for you to destroy your own standard of living!

There is only one effective, sustainable way to produce "green jobs," and that is with a fixed, durable, long-term price signal that raises the price of dirty fuels and thereby creates sustained consumer demand for, and sustained private sector investment in, renewables. Without a carbon tax or gasoline tax or cap-and-trade system that makes renewable energies competitive with dirty fuels, while they achieve scale and move down the cost curve, green jobs will remain a hobby.

In other words, "green jobs" will only be competitive if we make driving your car, heating your house, and buying anything that requires transportation to get to the store (which is to say, almost everything you ever buy) much more expensive. Friedman's plan would make electricity prices "necessarily skyrocket," to quote Barack Obama from his San Francisco reveries.

It's a remarkable prescription from a liberal given that this is the single most regressive tax one could propose. Low-income people spend a major percentage of their incomes on food, transportation, and utilities; Friedman's plan would be devastating for them unless -- as the Democrats would no doubt propose – upper income earners then subsidize the higher costs for lower earners, turning climate change into just another method of wealth distribution.

Of course this is really what the issue has been about all along, both on a national and international basis. George Will had it right when he said that "today's 'green left' is the old 'red left' revised." And while that's the most often quoted sentence of Will's article, another is just as appropriate when considering Friedman: "The green left understands that the direct route to government control of almost everything is to stigmatize, as a planetary menace, something involved in almost everything -- carbon."

Thomas Friedman says that "President Obama has chosen not to push for a price signal for political reasons," as if what would conceivably be the biggest tax increase in U.S. history is a good idea other than for banal "political" considerations.

But let's be fair to Friedman: he does have a significant moment of honesty when he says that President Obama has "opted for using regulations and government funding" to increase the cost of energy.  In other words, even Friedman admits that Obama is trying to do through the EPA and the Department of the Interior what he knows he cannot get through Congress, what he could not get through the Senate even when the Democrats had a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.

Friedman asks if we should "pay a little more per gallon of gas and make the country stronger, safer and healthier." To put this call for human sacrifice in context, allow me to pose a multiple choice question.

Roughly what percentage of the earth's atmosphere is composed of carbon dioxide?

A) 52%
B) 31%
C) 17%
D) 9%
E) 4%

If you answered D, 9%, you're…wrong. In fact if you answered any of the above, you're not just wrong, but wrong by two or three orders of magnitude. The answer is that the earth's atmosphere is less than 390 parts per million, or less than 0.04%, CO2. Yes, this is up from about 320 parts per million, or .032% CO2 fifty years ago, but it is an astonishingly low number to most whose only contact with "climate science" is through what they read in the papers.

Have you ever heard that fact discussed in the "mainstream" media, or even on the nominally conservative Fox News? You hear that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased, but you never hear that it's gone from a minuscule number to a very slightly larger minuscule number.

In fact, our atmosphere is approximately 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. For those of you keeping score at home, that's 99% of the atmosphere. Of the 1% that remains, more than 90% is Argon. Less than 4% of that 1% is carbon dioxide. (Those measures are of the "dry atmosphere," excluding water vapor, because the water vapor percentage is highly variable. At the surface, water vapor is usually somewhere between 1% and 4% of the atmosphere, reducing the other numbers proportionately.)

If this doesn't already have you asking, "What's all the carbon dioxide fuss about?" here's a little more:

• The "greenhouse effect" of increasing carbon dioxide is logarithmic, meaning that each additional increase has less impact on temperatures than the prior (same sized) increase.

• It is estimated (such as here and here) that 96%-97% of carbon dioxide comes from natural sources, such as animals, plant decay, and volcanoes. Climate alarmists claim that the single-digit percentage human contribution to atmospheric CO2, a small percentage of a tiny percentage, is nevertheless destroying the world.

• Although estimates vary widely, water vapor, which is essentially 100% naturally occurring, is responsible for the majority, somewhere between 50% and 90%, of the "greenhouse effect." So, man-made carbon dioxide is responsible for a small percentage of a tiny percentage of less than half of the greenhouse effect… but is destroying the world.

The point of this is not to offer you a science lesson, but to put in context the fear mongering as anti-capitalists posing as environmentalists become ever more desperate. As Solyndra pounds one of the last nails into the "green jobs" and solar-as-savior coffin, alarmists are making one last stand urging you to reduce your standard of living on the altar of the cult of man-made global warming. It is an altar bloodied with human sacrifice, made to a false god.

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About the Author
Ross Kaminsky is a self-employed trader and investor and is a senior fellow of the Heartland Institute. He is the host of The Ross Kaminsky Show on Denver's NewsRadio 850 KOA on Saturday mornings from 6 AM to 9 AM. You can reach Ross by e-mail at rossputin(at)rossputin(dot)com.