Clean water or hot air?

Before the Johannesburg summit on the environment, I was asked what I thought it would achieve. I replied that the amount of hot air generated would surely contribute to rather than solve the problem of global warming. The millions of dollars wasted on the jamboree for 65,000 delegates could have rescued entire districts in Africa from poverty. But then hot air has always attracted larger budgets.

The world has many serious environmental problems. Polluted water is by far the biggest, causing millions of deaths and illnesses. Polluted air is the second biggest hazard. Smoke from indoor cooking causes more havoc through respiratory diseases (not to mention burns and house fires) than factory smoke or auto smoke. Industrial pollution has wrecked rivers and canals, and toxified acres. Overfishing has wrecked fish stocks, overfelling and overgrazing have wrecked forests.

These problems cry out for priority, especially in developing countries. Yet so firmly have green imperialists of the west hijacked the global agenda that the focus has shifted to global warming and genetically modified crops.

The Kyoto Treaty on global warming seeks to cap carbon emissions by rich countries. Much rhetoric at Johannesburg was on how the USA had stabbed the Treaty in the back.

Now, I too dislike US unilateralism., but Kyoto is scarcely an important example of it. All serious environmentalists need to emphasise that global warming is a dubious issue, and Kyoto a dubious solution.

My 13-year old son, Rustam, once asked me what global warming was. I explained that some weather experts had forecast that, 100 years from now, world temperatures might be higher by a few degrees. Rustam’s face widened in amazement, and he said, “But Papa, they can’t even forecast tomorrow’s weather properly. How can they forecast 100 years ahead?”

A 13-year old boy can see the heart of the matter more clearly than 65,000 delegates at Johannesburg. Our meteorological models are so poor that weather forecasts are a standing joke the world over. A former Agriculture Minister once remarked that astrology was more accurate than meteorology. Despite the use of supercomputers, weather experts could not forecast this year’s drought in India, or in the USA.

And yet the same weather forecasters, universally the butt-end of jokes, are treated with reverential respect when it comes to 100-year forecasts. Why? Because prophecies of doom serve many private agendas. As HL Mencken said, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed–and hence clamouring to be led to safety–by menacing it with a series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. ” Green fundamentalists who have hijacked the global movement excel at such practical politics. They have succeeded in creating a populace clamouring to be led by them to safety. It has meant large donations to green foundations, endless TV and seminar appearances, fame and fortune. And jamborees like Johannesburg.

Consider a few basic facts.

  1. Global temperatures are lower today than in the Middle Ages. World history is full of cycles of warming and cooling, causes unknown.
  2. In recent decades, temperatures have indeed risen. But for three decades, between the mid-1940s and mid-1970s, global temperatures actually fell. Indeed, scientists at the time warned that the next ice age might be arriving.
  3. Any convincing theory of global warming needs to explain the global cooling of these three decades, as well high temperatures in the Middle Ages. I have yet to hear a single theory that explains all this.
  4. Greens claim that nearly all scientists agree that global warming is taking place. False. Scientists will readily tell you that our weather forecasting tools are too primitive or accurate forecasts 100 years ahead. They use simplistic computer models, not because these tell the truth but because we have nothing better. These typically predict some warming. But they represent guesstimates, not scientific truth.
  5. Carbon dioxide is not pollution. On the contrary, it is the food of plants, and so higher carbon emissions could significantly raise the yield of crops. We cannot accurately estimate these benefits. just as we cannot accurately estimate the costs.
  6. Ice ages come once in 10,000 years or so. The exact timing of the next one is not predictable accurately. But keep in mind that the main problem 100 years hence might just be global cooling.

On balance, I am an agnostic. Perhaps global warming will indeed be a problem. But I know beyond all doubt it pales before other threats like unclean water and air.

Bjorn Lomborg, author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist”, highlights the fact that the Kyoto Treaty, if fully adhered will delay global warming by just six years by 2100. So, it is much ado about very little. But the cost of implementing Kyoto will be very high. Lomborg estimates that the annual cost, for each of the next 100 years, would suffice to provide clean drinking water to every human being.

That is surely the bottom line. Spending billions on global warming rather than clean water means killing millions in poor countries to meet western eco-imperialist priorities.

What do you think?