In Paris, everyone's on board the global warming bandwagon

Environment
by Jim Henry
Posted 12/03/15, 04:20 pm

For these first two weeks of December, Paris is the scene of a city within a city. As many as 50,000 people from nearly 200 countries have descended on the French capital for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Representatives from government, business and nonprofit organizations are seeking to hammer out a deal that will cap greenhouse gas emissions thatsome scientists say contribute to global warming. But critics say the much-touted summit will only generate more hot air.

President Barack Obama, who attended the beginning of the conference, has repeatedly tried to elevate the threat of global warming to the level of international terrorism.

“This is an economic and security imperative that we have to tackle now,” the president said. Republicans seized on the president’s attempts to label global warming as a national security threat.

“While the world is in turmoil and falling apart in so many different ways, especially with ISIS, our president is worried about global warming. What a ridiculous situation,” Donald Trump posted on Instagram.

If the president is bothered by the GOP attacks, he isn’t showing it. He’s moving ahead with his administration’s goal of reducing U.S. carbon emissions by 27 percent over the next decade. Critics say that goal is unreachable, but that’s not stopping the Environmental Protection Agency from shutting down as many coal-fired power plants as possible by the end of the president’s term. Since whatever agreement comes out of Paris will not be binding—that would require Senate approval— a Republican president could simply reverse the policy in 2017. Obama says that won’t happen, given the dire threat of global warming.

“It spans political parties. You travel around Europe and you talk to leaders of government and the opposition, and they are arguing about a whole bunch of things. One thing they’re not arguing about it whether the science is real and whether or not we have to do something about it,” he said.

Leaders from all over the world have jumped on the global warming bandwagon. At the climate summit, Britain’s Prince Charles called for action on behalf of younger generations. French President François Hollande said that although Paris is still in mourning, the conference must go on because it is one of the most important gatherings in history.

The quest to lower greenhouse gas emissions from burning carbon fuels—the lifeblood of every country’s economy—has pitted wealthy, developed nations against poorer countries still trying to grow their economies. Developing countries say it’s not fair for them to limit fossil fuel consumption when developed nations have had the advantage of growing wealthy without carbon limits. In 2010, developed nations agreed, in principle, to fork over what could amount of hundreds of billions of dollars into something called the Green Climate Fund, administered by the United Nations.

Proponents of drastic government action to reduce greenhouse gases insist that the science behind global warming is settled despite the fact that not all scientists agree the climate models are correct.

Economist Ben Zycher at the American Enterprise Institute has been following the global warming debate for years. He says a lot depends on what you mean by “science.”

“It’s pretty clear that increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will have some effect greater than zero, and that is happening,” Zycher said. “How much of an effect, that’s not settled at all.” Zycher said Earth has been warming in fits and starts since about 1860, but “the degree to which man has contributed to this long-term warming trend is simply something that no one knows.” Zycher notes that temperatures inexplicably increased between 1910 and 1940, then declined between 1950 and the late 1970s. And they remained absolutely flat from around 2002 until 2013.

Zycher suggests that billions of dollars in government grant money handed out to scientists around the world who support the theory is one reason the global warming bandwagon rolls on: “It’s certainly the case that the overwhelming weight of the incentive structure is to not question the prevailing, the conventional view.”

Listen to Jim Henry’s report on the UN Climate Change Conference on The World and Everything in It.

Jim Henry

Jim is a former WORLD reporter.

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