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The price of global warming

By Henry Lamb
web posted July 23, 2007

It is widely agreed that the global mean temperature has increased .07 degree C, over the last century.  It is also widely agreed that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased from about 280 parts per million (ppm) to nearly 380 ppm.   And there is general agreement that at least some, if not most, of the increase in atmospheric carbon is the result of humans burning fossil fuels.  Here's where the agreement ends.

One side - Al Gore, and the global warming doom-sayers - contend that the warming is the result of the increase in carbon dioxide.  The other side contends that the warming is consistent with past natural climate variations, and that the human-caused increase in atmospheric carbon has little or nothing to do with the increase in global temperature.

Now suppose that Al Gore lived a hundred years ago, with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in control of Congress, and any one of the current Democrat candidates in the White House.   Had all this collected genius lived in 1907, they would have, no doubt, convinced the nation that growth in atmospheric carbon dioxide had to be stopped, to prevent Florida and half of New York from being flooded by a 20-foot sea level rise.   Suppose they had succeeded in enacting legislation to virtually stop the growth in CO2 in the atmosphere.

Consider carefully what this means: no increase in human-caused carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  This means that no new automobile could be put into use unless an existing automobile was junked.   No new airplanes at all.    "In 1907, only 8 percent of all dwellings were using electricity", and to keep the atmospheric carbon dioxide at 280 ppm, there could be no new coal or petroleum-burning electricity generating facilities.

Public transportation could not expand.   Nashville's transportation system suggests how difficult public transportation was in 1907.  No Greyhound buses - ever.  No new trains, unless an existing train was taken out of service.  No air travel at all.

Model TIn 1907, the Ford Motor Company had been in business for  four years, and had sold fewer than 10,000 cars to the 87-million people in the U.S.  The revolutionary "Model T" was not introduced until 1908, but remember, no new cars could be put into service unless an existing car was taken out of service: no increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.   In 1907, the GDP was $34  billion and the per capita GDP was $391.00, about half the cost of a new Ford.

There could be no new factories, except to replace existing carbon-spewing factories.  Neither plastic nor refrigeration  would  have been available, so they would never have known what they were missing.. Life expectancy was 47.6 years. (PDF)

The people who lived in 1907 had a wonderful life, compared with prior generations.  Why would they hesitate to stop growth by limiting energy use to current levels, in order to save the planet from catastrophe?  After all, the collective wisdom of the nation's leaders, and the scientific community all agreed that the science was settled, and disaster would befall the planet unless they held carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at 280 ppm.

Today's collective wisdom of the nation's leaders want, not simply to stop the increase of carbon in the atmosphere, but to actually reduce it to levels that existed before 1990.   This would require a roll-back of energy use of as much as 60%, according to some estimates. 

Using the value of a dollar in 2000 as a basis, per capita GDP in 1907 was $5,649, compared to $37,232 in 2005.   This means that even with population expanding from 87-million to nearly 300-million over the period, the per capita GDP increased $4,512 every time the global mean temperature increased one-tenth of one degree.

Had our current collection of national leaders been in power in 1907, they could have spared us this horrible fate.  Ninety-two percent of the nation's households and buildings would not be puffing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, because they would not be using any electricity.

There would certainly be no traffic problems in any of our cities, except, perhaps, dodging the exhaust from the two-and-four real-horsepower conveyances.

On the other hand, some of us think that, even if humans caused every bit of the .07-degree increase in temperature (which they didn't), it was a very small price to pay for the magnificent progress that has been made since 1907.  Some of us are happy that by 2001, life expectancy increased to 77.2.  Some of us are thankful that the current crop of collective Washington leaders did not live in 1907.  It is too bad that these people are now in a position to inflict their short-sighted ignorance on our children and future generations. ESR

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.


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