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Nobel in Alarm, Ignoble in Solution

Friday, October 12, 2007

Al Gore identified the problem, writes KENNETH P. GREEN, but his cure is worse than the disease.

Gore: Prize PoliticsIt’s no surprise that Al Gore has added a Nobel Prize to his Academy Award. The political winds have been blowing in his direction for many years now. And to be fair about it, one has to applaud Gore’s climate crusade on several levels: his tenacity, effectiveness, and persuasiveness are all on par with other Nobel winners.

Few informed observers would deny the nugget of truth in Gore’s movie, namely, that the Earth’s climate is warming and that there is a plausible theory linking some of that warming to man-made greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions and land-use changes. It’s also clear that significant action is needed to address the risks of a changing climate. After Hurricane Katrina, we’re all too aware of how easily seawalls can collapse and coastal areas can become inundated by storm surges. In this regard, Gore’s Nobel is certainly warranted. He has done more to raise awareness of the potential risks of climate change than any other individual in human history.

But there is a sharp distinction to be made between the scientific beneficence of Gore’s message and the destructiveness of his favored policy prescriptions. Although it has suited Gore and the environmental movement to claim that the dispute over climate change is about science—and a few vocal critics of climate science have enabled them to do so—the real fight has always been about the choice of response.

There is a sharp distinction between the scientific beneficence of Gore’s message and the destructiveness of his favored policy prescriptions.

For Gore and his allies, the gold standard of climate policy is the Kyoto Protocol, with its immediate and unrealistically harsh curbs on the GHG emissions of developed countries. Anyone promoting alternative proposals—such as adaptation, sequestration, or geo-engineering—has been slandered as a “denier” or a mad-scientist, even if, as in the cases of Paul Crutzen and Norman Borlaug, they also have Nobel Prizes.

Sadly, Gore’s left-wing policy filter remains in place today. He seems fixated on the idea of a “cap-and-trade” system—yet another technocratic scheme in which a centralized body decides the amount of GHG emissions a given country is allowed, and then decides whether to let wealthier countries “buy” permits from developing countries in order to reduce overall global emissions. Like the Kyoto Protocol, this system has already showed signs of failure in Europe, and it is destined to fail even more ignominiously if applied to the entire world.

Yes, the climate is changing, and yes, some part of that change may be attributable to man-made GHG emissions. Even a modest change of one or two degrees over the next century could pose genuine risks to future generations. Gore deserves credit for raising awareness of these facts. But, again, the bedrock dispute over climate change has never been about the science—it’s been about the policy response. And on that front, Gore’s actions over the last ten years have been far more ignoble than Nobel. With his fixation on Kyoto and other impractical, economically damaging plans, Gore has set the world on a policy course that has shifted focus away from the most promising long-term solution: investment in high-tech, energy-intensive development. Only by improving clean-energy technologies, and in the process gradually reducing GHG emissions, will efforts to combat climate change be practically efficient and economically sustainable.

Kenneth P. Green is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Image by Darren Wamboldt.

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