Wednesday, July 11, 2007


By ROY W. SPENCER, New York Post

July 10, 2007 -- ONE obvious irony of this past weekend's Live Earth concerts is that it took an event that increased energy usage to get people around the world to participate in "saving the Earth."

This was no accident - the majority of enjoyable human activities require the generation of energy. For the First World, these activities might include transportation, computers, TVs, heating and air conditioning. For the Third World, it might mean simply having electricity to refrigerate food and so prevent deaths due to food-borne illnesses.

When Al Gore told us that 2 billion people on seven continents might hear the concerts, he didn't mention that nearly 2 billion more lack electricity, let alone the Internet or TV. Where's the concert to campaign for electricity for all?

Instead, folks in the developed world who feel guilty about pollution decide it's time to do something drastic - like throw a worldwide-rock concert.

Of course, Gore could have helped to raise awareness of global warming by asking people to walk, not ride, to concerts where all acts would be during the daytime (no lighting required), and all music would be acoustic. But who would come? It's much more interesting to watch Madonna have simulated sex with electric guitars and amplifiers.

We love our conveniences, which in three short generations have gone from being extravagances to basic human rights. Would you rather go to a banquet to raise awareness of world hunger, or go for three days without eating instead?

Gore asked those attending Live Earth to sign a seven-point pledge to do things that will decrease our greenhouse gas emissions and thereby reduce global warming. But how many of us really know what that means?

Sure, we can put pressure on our elected representatives to enact laws that will reduce emissions - but how many of us know that we are, in the process, agreeing to pay the extra costs?

Gore tells us that a few simple lifestyle changes will prevent 100 million tons of carbon emissions. What he doesn't spell out is that that's enough to prevent future warming by one thousandth of a degree.

The inconvenient truth is that it's easier to talk green than to be green.

It is a matter of simple physics and basic economics that, no matter how much you think the world will warm in the future, there is nothing substantial we can do about it without new energy technologies. The global demand for energy is simply too great.

Switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs and hybrid cars; turning off the light when we leave a room - these are attractive options because we can do those things.

We believe we are thereby earning our salvation from the eternal fires of some global-warming hell. We can pat ourselves on the back and say we are "doing something" worthwhile. Really. Al Gore said so.

For issues that really matter, pop-science subjects like global warming are dangerous. When politicians exaggerate scientific theories to convince people to divert part of their wealth to one kind of activity, it's at the expense of other, more beneficial activities.

In fact, Gore asks his disciples to help force policy changes that will, in the end, hurt the poor the most - both here and in the Third World. Interested in helping humanity? Then campaign for clean water for all. It is vastly cheaper. Or demand that all poor African countries be allowed to use DDT to eliminate malaria (without the threat of economic sanctions), just like America and Europe did a century ago

If it makes you feel better to perform energy-saving rituals, go right ahead. But don't be deceived into thinking you're doing anything that will help humanity.

If we're really interested in a carbon-free future, we should support technological progress: safer nuclear power, carbon sequestration during the burning of coal and the eventual development of new energy sources.

But energy technology research requires wealth, and wealth requires access to abundant, affordable energy in the context of free markets. Contributions to Al's Church of Carbon Offsets might be tax-deductible, but investment in technological progress will earn far greater dividends for all of humanity

Roy Spencer is a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. His book "Climate Confusion" is due out this winter.

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