“Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

In an editorial for the Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente questions global warming policies, including carbon credits, subsidies for renewables and biofuels.  She writes:

“Climate change is very, very complicated. Greenhouse gases emitted by burning fossil fuels are just one of many factors that affect the climate. Other factors – ocean temperatures, soot, clouds, solar radiation etc. – turn out to be a lot more important than we thought and aren’t so easily captured by computer models.” 

This author is critical of policies that have been enacted to lesson the effects of man-made greenhouse gases.  Wente sites the implementation of carbon credits as an example of failed policies.

“I’m also skeptical about our ability to do something intelligent about it. Some of our policy responses to climate change have been a complete disaster. The European Union had the bright idea of setting up a system to trade carbon emission permits. So how has that worked out? The recession came along, and today the permits are all but worthless. According to the Swiss bank UBS, the scheme has cost European consumers about $280-billion for “almost zero impact” on carbon emissions. Meanwhile, artificially high electricity prices have made many European industries uncompetitive.”

Wente calls these policies “well-intentioned” but, resulting in unintended consequences.  Biofuels are another example the author sites:

“Take the sorry history of biofuels, which were supposed to green up the world by substituting for fossil fuels. The rush to biofuels has caused massive deforestation, disrupted commodity markets and pushed food prices to record highs. Poor people are suffering so that rich Europeans can get 10 per cent of their fuel from renewable sources by 2020 – all in the name of saving the planet. Meanwhile, governments are extracting hundreds of billions of dollars from frigid German and British consumers to pay for extravagant subsidies of uneconomic solar and wind power sources. (That’s why the Germans are cutting down trees this winter.)”

Wente questions the need for “global warming policies” that have done more harm than the little understood sources of climate change.

“Many people say the risk of climate change is so great that we need to act now, because doing something is better than doing nothing. But that’s not always true. So far, global warming policies have probably done far more harm to the planet than global warming has. Climate change is still rather poorly understood. Climate policy is hard. We should be humble about what we know – and what we don’t.”

I think that she’s right, a little bit of humility goes along way and may lead us to better understand climate change and its root causes.  I had not thought about the “extravagant subsidies” given for solar and wind technologies in Germany.  Future energy technologies might better serve energy needs by becoming distributable, instead of remaining tied to huge energy infrastructures, as there’s a lot of energy wasted in powering the grid.

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