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The Hot Air Emanates from Washington

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The billions of new tax dollars President Clinton wishes to spend in the new fiscal year include $4 billion to stem global warming. The Associated Press reports that Mr. Clinton wants an “aggressive, common-sense” strategy to save the planet from the man-made “greenhouse effect.” The strategy calls for big spending programs and targeted tax credits designed to reduce our use of energy.

Mr. Clinton is frustrated on this issue because the Senate won’t go along with his support of the Kyoto Protocol, the tax-and-regulate agreement by governments to address global warming.

As everyone knows, global warming is the theory that man’s burning of fossil fuels pumps carbon dioxide into the air, trapping heat in the atmosphere and dangerously warming the earth’s climate. All manner of catastrophe has been predicted, including flooding, drought, and disease.

There’s just one little problem with the scenario: it ain’t happening.

Contrary to what the news media blares, there is anything but unanimity among scientists on the matter. In fact, a significant number of climatologists reject the hysteria and argue that whatever warming is occurring is benign.

One of those is Patrick Michaels, a professor of environmental science at the University of Virginia. In a recent paper published by the Cato Institute, Michaels painstakingly examines the temperature data and finds the concerns about global warming baseless. He also shows that the believers in global warming have been trimming their sails year by year. Their predictions have consistently proved wrong and so in the last ten years, Michaels writes, “estimates of global warming to the year 2100 have declined.”

Michaels points out that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has prompted the direst headlines about the coming apocalypse, conceded in 1995 that “most [computer climate models] produce a greater mean warming than has been observed to date.”

What’s going on? Two things, according to Michaels. The estimates of the amount of carbon dioxide going into the air have been way off, and the CO2 that is being emitted isn’t causing nearly as much warming as so-called experts anticipated.

On the first point, James Hansen of NASA now estimates that CO2 is increasing at a rate 60 percent below what was expected. The increase in methane, another greenhouse gas, has been slowing for more than 15 years.

On the second point, it looks as though old mother earth is better able to handle the CO2 than the Chicken Littles thought. As Michaels and others have been saying for years, CO2 isn’t a pollutant; it’s a plant nutrient. Now Hansen says, “Apparently the rate of uptake by CO2 sinks-either the ocean, or, more likely the forests and soils-has increased.” In other words, if you give the planet more CO2, she puts it to good use making more vegetation. Why does Al Gore have so little faith in the earth he claims to revere?

Michaels says that when you take these facts into consideration, the mean projected warming over the next century is 1.25 degrees Celsius, a huge drop from the IPCC’s 1990 prediction of 3.2 degrees.

But no overall warming figure is informative. What matters is where and at what time of year the warming occurs. “While there is no overall global warming trend, there is a pronounced warming trend in the regions with the coldest winters,” Michaels writes. “This is the type of climate change that slightly lengthens the growing season, as the coldest temperature occurs at night.”

What we’ve got is a warming of Siberia, Alaska, and the Yukon Territories during the winter night. Man, then, is not dangerously interfering with the earth’s climate. The effects of this warming-longer growing seasons and more vegetation-will be to the good.

Messrs. Clinton and Gore can shelve the Kyoto Protocol, a blueprint for government central planning that will steal our liberty and stifle our living standards.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.