Mislead and Obscurefeatured

A friend sent me a link to the article “The Least Convenient Truth” posted on Whiskey and Gunpowder by Jim Amrhein. It’s interesting to read his take on global warming and his misguided proposal about what to do about it. If it’s not already clear, let me state for the record that I definitely disagree with him.

Mr. Amrhein is one of many people drawing political lines around the issue of global warming – lining the left up on one side of the field and the right on the other. I guess it’s inevitable that this happen with Al Gore as the messenger, and the country so deeply divided across political lines. In any case it’s important to remember that whatever the long term effects of global warming end up being, they will affect all of us, our children, and our children’s children with little respect for political affiliation.

Mr. Amrhein makes the following point:

“That the MORE oil consumed by the U.S., instead of by GHG juggernauts India, China, the former Soviet Union, and developing nations in low-tech Africa (all Kyoto Protocol exempt, by the way), the LESS greenhouse gases will be expelled into the atmosphere…”

He backs this up with two metrics, Green House Gas (GHG) emissions per unit of oil consumed, and GDP per unit of GHGs emitted. His argument is that because the US performs better in these metrics then other countries that we should be the ones burning the oil and not them. In his mind, this will provide a reduction in overall emissions. But these figures only seek to mislead the reader and obscure the real issue.

This is not a contest to see who can burn oil the cleanest, but that we burn it at all. Even the cleanest burning fossil fuels will contribute extensively to global warming there just isn’t any way around that problem. Clean technologies and efficiency are part of the solution don’t get me wrong, but it’s critical that all countries act now to bring online more renewable forms of energy.

Looking at GHGs on a per unit of oil basis is misleading. The U.S. contributes 30.3% of the emissions that lead to global warming. The so called “GHG juggernauts” mentioned in the article collectively contribute 28.4%, and that’s when you also include South East Asia in the mix as well. Clearly the U.S. is the largest single contributor to the problem, but we are all in the same boat now.

The science tells us that one side effect of global warming is an increase in intensity of Atlantic hurricanes. We got a taste of this last year when Katrina hit the Gulf States, the estimated costs of which range anywhere from $150-200 billion. The kicker here is that these cleanup costs all contribute in a positive way to our countries GDP. So what the author is asking us to believe when he compares our GDP to the amount of GHG we emit is that spending dollars to clean-up the natural disasters caused by global warming is a good thing for the country. Come on!

Regardless of the metric, comparing one country to the next isn’t useful and creates artificial lines that don’t solve the problem. This is a world-wide issue, one that requires a world wide solution. The United States needs to take the lead in developing new technologies and putting them into broad scale use – this will drive down costs by creating economies of scale, and making these new technologies more cost effective then fossil fuels even if all negative externalities like pollution are not taken into account. This will create new industries in the U.S. which translates to more jobs, more exports, and a healthier economy.

One sign of progress I take solace in is that the author is not trying to argue the science anymore – he must realize, along with many others, that it’s a tactic that is no longer defensible given a more educated public. We probably have Al Gore to thank for that, and nearly 100% of the scientific community of course.

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