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Ben Lieberman

Ben Lieberman

Ben Lieberman, a specialist in energy and environmental issues, is a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation's Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies. ALL POSTS

Avoid solutions worse than the problem

Q: As the controversy swirling around the IPCC deepens at the same time some are questioning the significance of global warming now that large portions of the U.S. are buried under record-breaking snow, what kind of information do policymakers need to make decisions about climate change?

Any risks of global warming need to be weighed against the risks of global warming policies. Policymakers must have accurate information on both sides of the equation in order to avoid measures that do more harm than good. Most of the recent proposals -- the Senate's Boxer-Kerry cap-and-trade bill, a new UN treaty, EPA's regulatory scheme -- fail to accurately weigh the risks because they are based on the false premise that climate change is a dire threat.

Simply put, global warming is not a crisis and should not be addressed as one. The recent wave of climate science scandals -- climategate, glaciergate, hurricanegate, amazongate, others -- have exposed a number of efforts initially crafted to hype the issue into something far scarier than the underlying science actually shows. Climategate -- the release of internal emails from scientists with key roles in the UN's 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report -- largely centered around the strained attempt to portray temperatures in recent decades as unprecedented throughout recorded history. The researchers had to go to extreme lengths to create this impression -- grafting one data set onto another to manufacture the desired "hockey stick" effect, using computer programs that add warming to the underlying temperature data and then destroying that data before others could see it -- which speaks volumes about the weakness of their case.

To his credit, Phil Jones, the head of the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit who had to step down pending the climategate investigation, recently conceded that temperatures have been statistically flat since 1995 and that the Medieval Warm Period may have been as warm as modern times. Slowly but surely, the hype and false certainty is being replaced by a more accurate picture of what the science really tells us about the earth's temperature history.

Similarly, most of the IPCC Report's apocalyptic claims about the consequences of global warming - that Himalayan glaciers would completely melt by 2035, that damage from hurricanes and other extreme weather events has increased, that African agricultural production is poised to plummet, and that the Amazon rainforest is under grave threat - have been shown to be far-fetched speculation devoid of scientific support. Yvo de Boer, the UN's top climate official, has just announced his resignation, in part due to the fact that so much so much alarmist junk made its way into the IPCC Report.

There is a reason proponents of costly measures to address global warming have so exaggerated the risks - they essentially had to for there to be any chance the public would accept the high price tag for action to ratchet down carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Once the gloom and doom is replaced by a more accurate assessment of the risk, such measures as the Senate's Boxer-Kerry bill, a new UN treaty, or EPA regulations look like an especially bad deal.

By Ben Lieberman  |  February 19, 2010; 11:33 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Reassess scientific knowledge | Next: Winter storms don't debunk global warming


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eagle2roost wrote: "The only downside to not polluting our environment with greenhouse gasses is that some rich shareholders will loose some profit margin."

AGW is real and serious, but that does not mean we should be glib about side effects of possible remedies. I live in Southern Illinois. When Congress passed a C&T bill for SO2 at part of the Clean Air Act, it did a great job of lowering SO2 and acid rain. But coal mining areas like mine with high sulfur coal took it on the chin. Mines closed here as power plants switched to low sulfur coal from western states. Little was done to help our mining communities.

The HF report forecasts significant net employment losses from a CO2 C&T while the CBO study does not. But, even the latter says there will be employment shifts. I want to better understand these likely problems so maybe we can head them off. Of course we also have to bear in mind the real but hard to forecast costs of global climate change. So, I support HR2454 and the corresponding bill in the Senate. But, we need to have an on going discussion about the economic impacts in different parts of the country.

Posted by: mike_midwest | February 24, 2010 11:41 AM
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The theory of Global Warming is dead. All of you enviro-fanatics need to accept that.

Lierberman is right about the "gates", and the American people have caught on to this hoax (just check the polls).

Stop making Global Warming your religion and stop worshiping the earth like it is a god. After all of the scandals and false reports that have came out, you are just making yourselves look foolish.

Posted by: Senator_Salesman | February 23, 2010 12:31 PM
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Lieberman recycles the false arguments of Jonathan Leake (in the Sunday Times) when he refers to 'amazongate'. Ben Nepstad did the original work on rainfall, drought and Amazon forests. Therefore, we now know the scientist who did the original work agrees with the way the IPCC used his conclusions--the only error was in the way it was cited. The echo chamber that Lieberman lives in has no room for the truth of the situation; "don't confuse me with the facts" must be one of Heritage's guiding principles.

Posted by: wavey1 | February 22, 2010 1:12 AM
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This article by Lieberman is simply yellow journalism mixed with careful misreadings of scientific reports and articles. Others have already made those points. I simply ask that those on Lieberman side provide a scientific explanation, a mechanism, by which the tripling of CO2 in the atmosphere will not cause average global temperatures to rise. I agree with another writer that it is the polluters responsibility to prove their case, not the other way around.

Posted by: jreed11665 | February 21, 2010 10:32 PM
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Here is an pretty interesting report on nuclear power from an MIT group. It was published in 2003, but there us a 2009 update.

Posted by: mike_midwest | February 21, 2010 4:39 PM
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This article assumes that there is a downside to NOT polluting our environment with greenhouse gasses. What could that be? Higher cancer? More AIDS? Starvation? NO, No indeed. The only downside to not polluting our environment with greenhouse gasses is that some rich shareholders will loose some profit margin.

What are the dangerous, terrible policies we need to avoid? Things like insulating our houses, driving electric vehicles, putting scrubbers on corporate smoke stacks- oh my! How frightening!

We are so mesmerized to believe that short term profit is the highest moral good, that an article about the dangers of not polluting is actually considered seriously. We have seen that not only are short term corporate profits not more important than the environment, but they lead to long term economic collapse, which we now face.

Let the polluter prove that their polices are good for someone other than their own pocketbooks instead of making the whole world prove catastrophic consequences from pollution.

Posted by: eagle2roost | February 21, 2010 4:33 PM
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Anyone want to discuss the Heritage Foundation report? I know the science side of the issue pretty well, but I am not well versed in economic theory or modeling. Here is a link to the CBO report, referenced in the HF report:

My first question is, if Lieberman thinks so little of climate computer models, which are based on well known physics, why does he have faith economic computer models? This would apply to the CBO projections as well. Why should I believe any economic computer modeling results?

The report discusses different input assumptions it makes verses EPA and CBO. Is this the only reason for the differences in their projections? In other words, are they all using the same algorithm for the same basic economic theories? For example, do they all make the same assumptions about demand elasticity?

The HF report assumes nuclear power will "have a net increase of 15 gigawatts" in 25 years. The HF report says the CBO assumes a doubling of nuclear power capacity. I am not sure how those two figures compare and I could not find the doubling assumption in the CBO report. Does anyone know? How does one estimate such things? (The CBO report I linked to is a brief, so maybe more detail is elsewhere.)

The HF report quotes approvingly the following sentence from the CBO report: "Energy conservation and most renewable energy sources are projected to play relatively limited roles over the entire period, mainly because most kinds of renewable energy provide power intermittently." I disagree with regard to conservation. Notice the last clause about intermittency does not apply to conservation. Almost everything I have read says there is a lot of potential gains in energy conservation. Do CBO projections really assume energy conservation efforts will be nil?

It is important to realize that neither the CBO or HF reports do cost benefit analysis with regard to the cost of doing nothing. One site that does some of this is, though it is aimed more at professional economists the lay persons.

That's all for now.

Posted by: mike_midwest | February 21, 2010 3:43 PM
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Mr. Lieberman's argument about whether we should view global warming as a crisis rests on the notion that climate science has been debunked by his list of "gates". The entire list of "gates" he cites are in fact red herrings (sorry for seeming to mix metaphors) created in an attempt to confuse and distract. Data were not falsified, the hockey stick is not is hard to know where to start. Apparently he cannot or does not chose to read the original scientific papers, but instead is part of the denialist echo chamber/ Big Lie process--if you repeat falsehoods frequently enough, they start to gain credibility.

Posted by: wavey1 | February 21, 2010 12:54 PM
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The very slight moderation in temperatures the last few years, is likely due to the prolonged solar minimum we are currently in.

While it has moderated the trend line somewhat in recent years, it has not halted the melting of the artic or the glacers. It has not reversed or cancelled out the warming trend.

Doubters will be able to get all the evidence they need, during the next solar max.

Posted by: fabco | February 21, 2010 10:39 AM
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Well, I own Lieberman a little bit of an apology. The "high price tag" link goes to a report the econ of C&T on the Heritage Foundation site. I have printed it out and will read it later tonight. But, I stand by my statements about Lieberman's shabby anti-science diatribe.

Posted by: mike_midwest | February 20, 2010 6:33 PM
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When I saw the headline for this column I thought it might be an interesting piece on the possible economic consequences of various CO2 reduction proposals. Cap & Trade is a complex issue. I'd really like to learn about how economists estimate likely outcomes of different C&T schemes.

But, instead I got another lame attempt at trashing science. The trend line for temp's is not statically flat, it is just not certain to the 95% confidence level. IPCC report specifically says there has not been a measured increase in the number of hurricanes. The other charges have been dealt with ad nauseam. Yvo de Boer didn't say anything about "alarmist junk". We need honest debate not pseudo balance.

I'd like to read conservative and liberal analyses of C&T or other measures to curb CO2. I am concerned that HR2454 has a lot special provisions for certain industries. I am concerned about it's impact in my part of the country, Southern Illinois, which did not fare well under the S02 C&T system. I am concerned about problems in the European C&T system. But, I don't need trash journalism.

Posted by: mike_midwest | February 20, 2010 6:17 PM
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The biggest myth perpetrated in the climate arena today is not the imprecision of climate science, which climate deniers and opponents of climate policies use this newspaper and other media to overblow, it is the myth that solving the climate problem is too expensive.

While a few climate modelers continue to accept money from these opponents, and used flawed models to show exorbitantly high costs, the balance of climate policy analyses show very modest costs. And if compared to the economic damage that climate change is likely to wreak, these "costs" are less than the costs of inaction.

Case in point--the general equilibrium model most often used by opponents is based on algorithms that require any technology or policy solutions to start at high costs. Their very design assumes that technology deployment in the economy is optimal, and that any changes inducted by policy would be more costly, starting at a cost of at least $50 per ton reduced. Yet more credible models take a more balanced approach, calculating the net economic benefits of the many technologies, especially those that increase energy efficiency. These low-cost options offset the cost of CCS, renewables, and other higher-cost solutions, keeping the economy strong while wringing carbon out of our energy systems.

Decarbonizing our economy will not be free, or easy. But it will be much less costly than the opponents claim, and much less ruinous to our economy than sticking to our antiquated coal-and-oil-based energy economy. There are many reasons to get off fossil fuels, and they do not come at the high costs that the fossil fuel industry and their conservative apologists claim.

Posted by: wprindle | February 20, 2010 10:19 AM
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It doesn't matter whether there is global warming or not. We must get off middle east oil, and phase out coal for it's other pollution and health risks.

Nuclear critics should check out what Obama can possibly mean by the next generation of safer, cleaner, cheaper, more efficient nuclear reactors before they make up their minds all things nuclear are bad.

Nuclear critics will have to come up with some new arguments. The old arguments no longer apply when you can burn the waste as fuel.
When will we start thinking outside the box? There are other types of reactor designs possible, besides the meltdown prone, fuel wasting, antique model T clunkers we build today. Arguments against uranium do not apply to thorium. Say no to uranium, and yes to thorium.

Releases in 1982 from worldwide combustion of 2800 million tons of coal totaled 3640 tons of uranium (containing 51,700 pounds of uranium-235) and 8960 tons of thorium. The population gets 100 times more radiation from a coal plant than from a nuclear plant. So in 2004 by burning 4.6 billions tons of coal, we released 5980 tons of uranium into the air and 14720 tons of Thorium. This is like 80 truck size dirty nuclear bombs releasing 1 ton of radioactive material every day, or a Chernobyl twice a week.

Posted by: fabco | February 20, 2010 9:42 AM
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