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Greens To Cancel Unicorn Hunt?

Via Meadia has been trying to tell the world’s greens for some time now that their quest for the green global climate treaty they dream of is a unicorn hunt.  No matter how many people join the hunt, no matter how enthusiastic they are, no matter how much money you raise, no matter how many planning sessions you have, no matter how brilliant your strategy is, you won’t catch a unicorn.

The treaty making and enforcement process can’t support this kind of detailed global regulatory approach any more than a rabbit can give birth to an elephant. You would need to build a strong global government before you could establish and enforce this kind of global regulatory structure, and if the threat of nuclear war hasn’t led humanity to build a world government, the threat of climate change will surely not be enough.

The failure of the green movement to understand these basic facts of life undercuts its credibility as an oracle of climate science.  If greens are this emotional and irrational about politics, people reason, they are poor judges of probabilities and policy. This strikes Via Meadia as a fair judgment. Greens scream that anybody who fails to join the unicorn hunt is an anti-science bigot who hates the planet and is probably an evil corporate hireling to boot.  This only deepens public skepticism about their claims.

Via Meadia thinks there are smarter ways to deal with climate issues than this and at least some scientists and environmentalists are beginning to think a little more creatively.  A new study argues there are other ways to cool the planet—ways that can save actual lives in the present and boost crop yields to boot. The Washington Post has the details as it reports on a (paywall protected) study that appeared in the journal Science.

Reducing methane and soot would slow global warming dramatically — by almost a degree Fahrenheit — by the middle of the century, according to computer simulations run by the 24-member international team.

At the same time, the simulations show that better air quality would prevent lung and cardiovascular diseases, saving anywhere from 700,000 to 4.7 million lives annually. The wide range reflects uncertainties in the number of deaths caused by air pollution.

Global crop yields would also rise, by 30 to 135 metric tons annually, as rice, corn, wheat and soybean plants would have an easier time absorbing the nutrients they need from the air, according to the report.

Methane and soot (also known as black carbon) are emitted by wood burning stoves, coal mines, diesel engines, and other sources. Dirty stoves in particular have been the focus of numerous development studies, million-dollar funding drives, and ambitious start-ups for years. With mixed success, companies like Envirofit and organizations like the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves work to persuade families from Africa to India to avoid using wood- or dung-burning stoves for food and heat. Helping poor families acquire clean cookstoves cheaply is the challenge. There are other efforts to reduce black carbon under way, such as cleaner and more efficient diesel engines.

These are promising efforts. Instead of chasing the elusive carbon-treaty unicorn at exotic summit locales like Bali, Cancun and Durban, or protesting big bad pipelines, greens would do better to focus on smaller, simpler, cheaper and, most important, achievable projects. As the NASA scientist who led the study says, “Even if you don’t believe climate change is a problem, these things are worth doing.”

Other ideas, like the Via Meadia-endorsed concept of a revenue neutral tax shift that substitutes a carbon tax for payroll taxes to fund Social Security and Medicare, would promote job creation, raise wages and promote sustainable economic growth while reducing CO2 emissions.

If greens gave up on the unicorn hunt, they just might get something done.

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  • Tom Holsinger

    It’s really about power. They like the power.

  • Mark Michael

    The point about reducing soot (black carbon) is surely well-taken. And it’s always worthwhile to provide the environmentalists with some positive alternatives to their current anti-CO2 campaigns. But I’d hesitate to jump on a “carbon tax” as an alternative to the payroll tax. That’s a big, big step when you consider how much that 15.3% of income tax takes in. That tax, paid by all workers, is the reason Social Security and Medicare remain so heavily supported by the public. It isn’t charity. They paid into it for years and years. It’s not really their fault the Congress and White House chose to behave like Bernie Madoff and his investment funds – spent it all on vote buying and other short-term goodies. (Well, it is if you say, “But they kept reelecting those congressmen, I guess.”)

    I’ve noted that more and more respectable scientists with the needed credentials have been coming out and saying that the claim that man’s CO2 emissions will cause catastrophic GW is bunk. Here’s one I saw yesterday:

    It’s retired professor Don Easterbrook of Western U. in Canada. He’s worked in global warming-related research for 50 years. A couple quotes:

    “How long do cooling and warming cycles generally last?

    We’ve had 27 climate changes in the last 400 years: warm, cold, warm, cold. There have been four in this past century that have nothing to do with CO2, because CO2 wasn’t a factor hundreds of thousands of years ago. We know that those are not at all related to CO2. So why would we expect climate change today to be related to CO2? Well, if you can prove it, fine, but there is no single piece of real evidence that points to CO2.

    “And the bottom line of this is that global warming ended in 1998. We’ve had no global warming above the temperatures of 1998 since then — despite the fact that the U.N. group Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,predicted that there was going to be a one degree rise of temperature by 2010, it actually got cooler. Not by a lot, but a little bit….”

    “We have been in a cooling trend now that’s related to ocean temperatures offshore that have happened. The Pacific changes modes from warm to cool to warm, there’s nothing in between. It’s like an off/on switch. It switched from cool to warm in 1977, and we had 20 years of global warming. There is no doubt that we have had global warming — that’s not the issue. Everybody agrees there has been. The question is what’s causing it.”

    If there is one thing constant about climate it is that it’s not constant. It’s always changing. It has always changed. We are coming out of what has been called a “Little Ice Age,” which happened about 500 years ago.

    “For 10,000 years before that, the climate was actually warmer than it is right now, then we plunged into that Little Ice Age. We’ve been coming out of a hole ever since. The last 400 years we’ve been thawing out of the Little Ice Age, if you like. So yeah, it’s been getting warmer about one degree a century. It’s been going on. There’s nothing new about it.

    “So the warming we saw, which lasted only from 1978 to 1998, is something that is predictable and expectable. When the ocean changed temperatures, global cooling is almost a slam dunk. You can expect to find about 25 to 30 years yet ahead of us before it starts to warm up again. It might even be more than that.”

  • Neshobanakni

    Those wood and/or dung burning stoves are a life-saver for poor families. The alternative is a smoky fire in the middle of their dwelling with the soot traveling through their lungs rather than out the top of the stove.
    Simple solutions considered one family at a time are much more realistic than “Saving the planet” […] fantasies. People are important; “Mother Nature,” not so much.

  • Mark Mazer

    “Global crop yields would also rise, by 30 to 135 metric tons annually”

    This does not make sense…typo? Missing the million?

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Mark Mazer: good question… I’ll ask one of the huddled masses in the intern cellar to take a look.

  • Otiose8

    CO2 is probably more effect than cause in global climate changes. The case for it’s being THE primary cause for any of the recent changes is not settled science. So pushing a carbon tax, absent some really good economic based arguments, wouldn’t seem to be a desirable goal.

    What I find significant is the established settled scientific fact of cycling from base line long periods of cold into relatively brief periods of warmth long before people could possibly have been any factor. Scientists have some idea as to the causes, but the details are sketchy at best and unsettled.

    Since we seem to be towards the end of a warm period, deliberately taking actions to cool the climate would not seem to be a good idea. Given the unsettled nature of our understanding of climate change even the remotest possibility of a mistake renders proposals to deliberately manipulate the climate towards cooling (or warming) far too dangerous to risk.

    What we need is a global environmental impact study that finds the absolute answers to how climate works. Once we have a consensus among ALL climate scientists then and only then should we entertain proposals as to specific actions. Any action prior to such a study would be premature and far too dangerous.

    While we wait on the study I suggest that future international planning sessions convene exclusively at locations North of the Arctic Circle just to provide some balance to the proceedings.

    We are well off the peak warmth of this warm period – “Our current interglacial shows a similar pattern. Greenland ice cores and other proxy records show that temperatures peaked around 7,000 years ago, when the Arctic Ocean was several degrees warmer than today, trees grew farther north in Siberia and the Sahara was wet enough for hippos (Africa generally gets wetter in warm times). Data from the southern hemisphere reveal that this “Holocene Optimum” was global in extent.”

  • Mark Mazer

    ” I’ll ask one of the huddled masses in the intern cellar to take a look.”

    I just read the Science abstract. Someone left out “million”.

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