Efforts to cap CO2 emissions are adverse to human health and welfare

In his State of the Union address, President Obama advocated an energy policy aimed at reducing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), which he claims are causing catastrophic changes to the earth’s climate and “harming western communities.”  In his policy prescription, the president advocates a combination of increased regulation of the energy and transportation industries and more government spending on research designed to bring low-carbon-emitting sources of energy, i.e., so-called renewables, to market. He considers those actions to be the only viable options “leading to a cleaner, safer planet.”

But the president’s concerns for the planet are based upon flawed and speculative science; and his policy prescription is a recipe for failure.

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With respect to the science, Obama conveniently fails to disclose the fact that literally thousands of scientific studies have produced findings that run counter to his view of future climate. As just one example, and a damning one at that, all of the computer models upon which his vision is based failed to predict the current plateau in global temperature that has continued for the past 16 years.  That the earth has not warmed significantly during this period, despite an 8 percent increase in atmospheric CO2, is a major indictment of the models’ credibility in predicting future climate, as well as the president’s assertion that debate on this topic is “settled.”

Numerous other problems with Obama’s model-based view of future climate have been filling up the pages of peer-reviewed science journals for many years now, as evidenced by the recent work of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, which published a 1,000-page report in September highlighting a large and well-substantiated alternative viewpoint that contends that rising atmospheric CO2 emissions will have a much smaller, if not negligible, impact on future climate, while generating several biospheric benefits. 

Concerning these benefits, atmospheric CO2 is the building block of plant life.  It is used by earth’s plants in the process of photosynthesis to construct their tissues and grow.  And as has been conclusively demonstrated in numerous scientific studies, the more CO2 we put into the air, the better plants grow.  Among other findings, they produce greater amounts of biomass, become more efficient at using water, and are better able to cope with environmental stresses such as pollution and high temperatures.

The implications of these benefits are enormous.  One recent study calculated that over the 50-year period ending in 2001, the direct monetary benefits conferred by the atmospheric CO2 enrichment of the Industrial Revolution on global crop production amounted to a staggering $3.2 trillion. And projecting this positive externality forward in time reveals it will likely bestow an additional $9.8 trillion in crop production benefits between now and 2050. 

By ignoring these realities, Obama’s policy prescription is found to be erroneous.  The taxation or regulation of CO2 emissions is an unnecessary and detrimental policy option that should be shunned.  Why would any government advocate to increase regulations and raise energy prices based on flawed computer model projections of climate change that will never come to pass?  Why would any government advance policy that seeks to destroy jobs, rather than to promote them?  Why, in fact, would they actually “bite the hand that feeds them?” 

We live in a time when half the global population experiences some sort of limitation in their access to energy, energy that is needed for the most basic of human needs, including the production of clean water, warmth, and light.  One-third of those thus impacted are children.  An even greater portion finds its ranks among the poor.

As a society, it is time to recognize and embrace the truth.  Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.  Its increasing concentration only minimally affects earth’s climate, while it offers tremendous benefits to the biosphere.  Efforts to regulate and reduce CO2 emissions will hurt far more than they will help.

Idso is lead editor and chief scientist for the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change.