As diplomatic conflabs go, the 2015 Paris Climate Conference does not have much of a potential to do a lot of damage. That is remarkable considering that the War on Terror-torn capital of France is playing host to thousands of politicians, diplomats, businessmen, activists, and troublemakers, all of whom want to gain some sort of advantage out of the concept of climate change. The idea that human-caused global warming is going to cause a catastrophe unless the things people are doing to cause it are stopped is well accepted in the media and in certain government circles.
But, the idea that global warming is a problem is not well received by the public, which does not think the phenomenon is much of a threat compared to – say – terrorism. In the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, Mali, and most recently San Bernardino, people could be forgiven for thinking this.
The idea that global warming or, as many prefer to call it, climate change, is a crisis that has to be addressed right now has developed the odor of a scam, an attempt to panic people into accepting measures that they might find otherwise awful. The case might be more acceptable if predictions of doom made in the past had ever come to pass. Writing in Scientific American, Matt Ridley explained about how some of the computer models that have predicted things like the melting of the polar ice caps and the flooding of coastal cities have failed to stand up to real-world phenomenon.
“In 1990 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was predicting that if emissions rose in a ‘business as usual’ way, which they have done, then global average temperature would rise at the rate of about 0.3 degree Celsius per decade (with an uncertainty range of 0.2 to 0.5 degree C per decade). In the 25 years since, temperature has risen at about 0.1 to 0.2 degree C per decade, depending on whether surface or satellite data is used. The IPCC, in its most recent assessment report, lowered its near-term forecast for the global mean surface temperature over the period 2016 to 2035 to just 0.3 to 0.7 degree C above the 1986–2005 level. That is a warming of 0.1 to 0.2 degree C per decade, in all scenarios, including the high-emissions ones.”
Ridley concludes that human-caused global warming is happening, but at such a slow pace that we have time to deal with it without taking hasty action. He suggests throwing some money to fund renewable and other non-fossil fuel energy technologies and letting the market take its course. Indeed, billionaires Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are already doing just that.
Of course, funding technology doesn’t have the high drama of bankrupting the coal industry or the opportunities for graft of slipping subsidies to companies like Solyndra. Politicians, President Obama especially, like to think that they matter and that only action initiated by them will save the planet. The idea that some company or even some lone inventor could come up with a cheap, clean, new form of energy and bring it to the market and solve climate change without political rancor is beyond their comprehension.
It is like saying that Steve Jobs was a more important figure in the 1990s than – say –Bill Clinton.
Fortunately any agreement that might be hammered out in Paris will be too vague and toothless to cause too much harm. Countries like China and India are not going to ban coal just to bow to what some in the developing world call “carbon imperialism.” The Congress will not ratify any treaty that would harm the American economy. Any executive agreement that President Obama might sign will not outlive his administration.
In short, the Paris Climate Conference is causing a lot of activity, not to mention a huge carbon footprint, for no purpose.