Sunday, December 10, 2006

The almost pointless fear of global warming

How alarmed would you be if a reliable source told you that in the northeastern part of Iceland, "existing ground cracks have widened and new ones appear every few months."

Not only that, but something "has caused the Atlantic Ocean to grow" and "torn Saudi Arabia away from the rest of the African continent."

Not only that, but the African continent may separate into three pieces, "allowing the Indian Ocean to flood the area."

Are you alarmed?

Well, calm down. These frightening things -- I didn't even tell you about the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions -- are part of the geological process known as plate tectonics. For two hundred million years, continent-sized pieces of the earth's crust have been grinding against each other, pushing under and over each other, and crashing into each other. Magma is rising up from below the earth's surface and putting pressure on the continental crust, the ocean floor is spreading, mountains are rising, trenches are forming, San Francisco is heading south and Los Angeles is heading north.

And there's not a thing we can do about it.

Nope, nothing.

We could tax ourselves into poverty to pay for giant bolts, and it wouldn't do a thing except provide jobs for giant bolt makers.

Of course, if you were a giant bolt maker, you might see some advantage in raising alarm about the drift of the continental plates. No one wants to leave their children and grandchildren a churning, flooding, erupting, quaking planet.

Think of the movie Al Gore could make about that.

Global warming, like the movement of continental plates, is something that has happened throughout the history of the planet (see "The awkward truth about global warming"). Projections of how long it will last or how bad it will be are just guesses, as evidenced by the upcoming report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Citing improved data, the panel has reduced its estimate of global warming by 25 percent and now believes the ocean levels will rise no more than seventeen inches by the year 2100, down from a previous guess of 34 inches. The report says there has been an unexpected cooling effect from -- you'll love this -- the use of aerosol sprays.

You can expect this report to be very unwelcome news to the many people who are working hard to raise alarm about global warming. They will emphasize that global warming is still projected to be a global catastrophe, even if the projections continue to melt away faster than a glacier on a sunny day.

Before you give up your car and stop using electricity, ask these questions:

How much of global warming is caused by human activity and how much by natural factors like volcanic eruptions and solar activity?

If greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activity are marginally reduced, will it make any difference at all in the rate of global warming?

What is the cost, in dollars and jobs, of marginally reducing greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activity?

When you have the answers to these questions, you can evaluate the policy proposals being waved around by campaigning politicians. Without the answers to these questions, you have nothing but a general sense of alarm, which will only lead you to accept a program of higher taxes and more restrictions in the name of saving the earth.

And that may be the point of an otherwise pointless campaign to stop the natural processes of the planet.

There are no atheists in a foxhole, so the saying goes; people who are scared to death will believe what their rational minds cannot verify. You are in that state of mind when you start to think you are incapable of understanding and have no choice except to follow the orders of those who seem to know.

That's how people are convinced to voluntarily surrender their money and their freedom to people who promise to save them.

Historically, that has been the real path to global catastrophe.

Copyright 2006

Source note: Scare your friends with the U.S. Geological Survey's essay, "Understanding Plate Motions," at