I’ve discussed my position on global warming many times on and off air and on this blog. But sometimes the dynamics of this debate concern me. The Academy Awards on Sunday night comprised a definitive point in this dialogue in America, with Al Gore (An Inconvenient Truth) gaining star power within the powerful Hollywood lobby and being heralded the ‘Noah’ of our time. At the same time conservatives have pointed out the huge monthly electricity bill at Gore’s mansion in Tennessee, identifying him as a hypocrite in an ad hominem aside to the debate.

In the midst of such fever, it seems to me that it is the role of this blog to bring a little rational summary to the discussion. Consider the following six positions:

(1) The earth has gotten warmer on average over the past century by one degree fahrenheit.

(2) The increase in global temperatures is due to an increase in greenhouse gases.

(3) Global warming is exponential and long-term.

(4) Global warming is inherently catastrophic.

(5) Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases could have enough impact upon the climate to prevent or reduce the effects of catastrophic global warming.

(6) Coercive laws should be used to curb emissions.

Each of the above positions builds upon the ones above it in the sense that each position is based upon an understanding and agreement of the preceding positions. Subscribing to position (3) entails belief in position (1) and (2) also, for example. Subscription to position (6) entails belief in all six positions.

The first of the above positions is recorded, observable science: the climatological record shows us that global temperatures have increased by roughly one degree in the past century. That much is a given. The second claims more, that the reason for the increase is that there is increased carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, enhancing the greenhouse effect and raising global temperatures. The third claims even more, that the warming effect will exponentially increase, speeding up warming and resulting in a significant, long-term increase within the next century. The fourth claims, further, that the upshot of what is claimed in the first three is necessarily catastrophic. The fifth claims, moreover, that the reduction of emissions may be able to prevent or reduce the effects of the catastrophe. The sixth, finally, claims that coercive laws are the best, or the only, effective means of achieving what is claimed in position (5).

It should be obvious that any of the above (including the preceding positions) are rational potential positions to take on the issue of climate change. Many scientists, Al Gore, George Monbiot and many on the Left agree with the sixth – and therefore all six – position(s). There are some conservatives who aren’t even persuaded by the first. But it’s important to understand that this isn’t an all-or-nothing deal. As long as they can be supported by the available facts, there are several positions one could take on the issue of global warming.

It’s this understanding that frames my own view of the climate change debate. (I’m effectively agnostic about catastrophic climate change, and actively opposed to coercive public policy with the aim of curbing emissions.) In my view, it is quite possible to hold a valid stance; (1) agreeing that global warming is occurring, (2) acknowledging the likelihood that human-caused greenhouse gases are responsible, (3) even granting that the warming could be exponential and long-term, while at the same time disagreeing that points (1) to (3) a catastrophe make, and disallowing coercive acts of law to solve the problem by curbing emissions.

It is my contention that those emissions will shortly be unnecessary. This is a key point. Our use of fossil fuels will not be required in the latter part of this century. Technology in the free market is already providing us with many of the means by which we’ll move to using energy provided without the need to emit greenhouse gases. So if, for example, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is right to predict that the average global temperature will have risen a total of six degrees by 2100, it will not be necessary that that process of warming by human causes will continue past that point (if, in fact, it’s ever allowed to reach that point).

That would not constitute catastrophic climate change – certainly not by any sensible standards (six degrees warmer in a North Dakota winter, for example, will still be 50 degrees below zero) – and thus a catastrophe is not inherently inevitable. There are other, less extreme scenarios envisioned by climatologists, though such scenarios wouldn’t capture the imaginations of the public at large in the way An Inconvenient Truth did. In other words, using a presentation that set out the situation as I did above would have made it much harder to scare the shit out of everyone.

Of course, it’s possible to posit that, even with technology removing the human component of this problem within a few decades, the effects of the greenhouse gases that have already been emitted into the atmosphere will continue to alter the climate. But if that is the case, then any radical change we make now will have a negligible effect in comparison to the economic catastrophe caused by some of the coercive measures of law I’ve heard suggested and, as a result, the inevitable stunting of the very free market we rely upon for the long-term solutions to this problem. Exponential certainly does not mean perpetual or everlasting.

Catastrophic warming is not predicted by most climatological models. What appears to be provable is that (1) global warming is occurring, (2) that it is due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and (3) that the length of time such gases remain in the atmosphere make it likely that this warming is long-term and exponential. I believe a convincing case can be made that the rest is a combination of unfounded speculation, consensus and political predilection.

I’ll finish by saying two things. Firstly, the IPCC issued a report a month or so ago saying that, for the first time, they are sure that climate change is human-induced. I studied this report and changed my opinion after reading it from being agnostic on the human factor in climate change to acknowledging that such is now likely to be the case. I’m not closed-minded on this or any subject, and take my approach to the matter seriously enough to read a lot of material on an almost daily basis.

Finally, it is important to note that, regardless of the facts of climate change, there is for libertarians like me a final measure of the worthiness of a law. That measure is liberty, and if a law intends to breach the premise that no-one may infringe on the equal freedoms of any citizen then it is to be opposed on principle. It is this very principle that has the greatest potential to prevent climate change from becoming a catastrophe. This is a complex debate and one on which far too many are misled by both the Left and the Right.

Perhaps it’s time for some libertarian reason?

John Wright