How Obama Made Me Question Climate Policy


As a civil engineer with an advanced degree in environmental fluid mechanics, I’m a big fan of math. So in June of 2014, when Obama released his eight billion dollar climate plan which largely targeted the low hanging fruit industrial level CO2 producers, I wanted to know how much warming it was going to avert. Turns out none, according to the EPA’s own modeling. For what it’s worth, the cost “savings” in the fact sheet from the EPA (first link) are cooked books, because they fly in the face of actuarial science, but that’s a discussion for another day.

So that was a disappointment. As a committed environmentalist, I started looking at opportunity cost. What else could we spend eight billion dollars on? Turns out that you, I, or anyone else can flat out buy rainforest to preserve through modern charities. Costs range from $10/acre to $25/acre, so let’s use the higher number, and presume the US Government could get a similar deal on a larger scale. That’s 320 million acres, or 500,000 square miles of rain forest that could have been preserved for the same federal outlay. To put that in perspective, that’s a land area the size of the entire country of Peru. And given that the main problem with South American deforestation is economic, where the local economies must cut down trees to augment their economies, they could clearly use the Benjamins. Win / win. Instead, we have an expensive plan that verifiably does nothing to stop global warming while the South Americans remain poor and continue to chop trees. What a fantastic opportunity lost.

Why? I can’t say for sure, but I highly suspect our policy had something to do with the relative weight of the CO2 lobby, which is large and supported by Goldman Sachs’ position in the emerging carbon trading market, vs the Rainforest Lobby, which as far as I’m aware doesn’t really exist.

But “97% Consensus!”

Yeah, let’s talk about consensus. First off, the 97% number isn’t a real number. The number was cooked up as if a particular question was asked, without explicitly stating the question. It’s a Dilbert number. The number could, should, and does vary depending on the question asked. If you ask climate scientists if the globe is warming, I bet you get a near 100% confirmation. If you ask, “is some of it caused by man?” I’m sure the number remains extremely high, near 100%. If you ask, “is it mostly caused by man?” the consensus will drop further, but probably remain very high. If you ask “is it mostly caused by man, and entirely due to anthropogenic CO2 emissions?” the number starts to get pretty shaky. Going straight to IPCC AR5, they estimate the mean climate sensitivity due to anthropogenic carbon emissions to be somewhere between 1 degree C per doubling and 7 degrees C per doubling, which is about like going to the doctor with a stomach ache and him telling you, “you’re either currently in cardiac arrest or you ate some bad cheese.” There may very well be significant cause for alarm, but the clear thing to do is get a second opinion. (more science) Unfortunately, the likely range for mean climate sensitivity with each successive IPCC report gets wider, and less certain, which is like your second opinion doctor telling you “Man, this could be serious. Also we can’t rule out cheese.”

If you ask any climate scientist of any merit about the specific efficacy of specific policies bandied about by politicians, they’ll throw their hands in the air. Or just be quiet on the subject. Which is why the EPA didn’t post anything about the 2014 climate initiative’s actual efficacy.

And why I started to question it.

In particular, I heavily question the IPCC’s assertion that destroying 80% of the world’s natural forests provided a net cooling effect on the climate. (see AR5 link above) They admit in AR5 that the research on climate change due to anthropogenic land use changes is pretty sparse.

I’m a committed environmentalist, and I’m very alarmed that we are currently smack in the middle of the Earth’s sixth great mass extinction event. This is a big problem. But it isn’t caused by warming. It’s caused by real (toxic) pollution, increased disease vectors, increased invasive species vectors, overharvesting, and the biggest reason of all, loss of habitat. Which are all things environmental libertarians should be concerned about. If we want to preserve the planet for future generations, we need to correctly identify the causes of our planet dying, and consider policies that are demonstrably effective. And part of that commitment must be to remain skeptical of policies that demonstrably aren’t.

* Courtney Camp is a gulf coast sailor, licensed and practicing civil engineer, and libertarian environmentalist who understands the difference between a “policy skeptic” and a “science denier.” This is his second submission to Being Libertarian.

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Courtney Camp is a gulf coast sailor, licensed and practicing civil engineer, and libertarian environmentalist who understands the difference between a “policy skeptic” and a “science denier.” This is his second submission to Being Libertarian.

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