Reading "an early draft" of a federal government report has helped David Ignatius see that the global warming debate is just like the tobacco wars of the past four decades ["Naysay Now, Pay Later," op-ed, Aug. 18]. On one side are the good guys trying to warn the world about the impending floods and droughts and the fact that "forests and agriculture may be affected by rising temperatures."
On the other side are the bad guys -- those oil, car and utility companies that produce or use fossil fuels, their defenders in Congress and "pro-business groups" such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Cooler Heads Coalition.
Taking the tobacco analogy one step farther, Ignatius foresees liability lawsuits winning trillions of dollars in damages against those "companies that have been working so hard to deny" that global warming may be a problem.
The rest of us may want to consider a few facts before we start to hyperventilate.
First, the producers of coal, oil and natural gas have provided an immense boon to mankind. Cheap and abundant energy has created the wealthiest, best fed, most mobile society in history. And wealthy, energy-rich societies are much better prepared to deal with future challenges of all types than traditional subsistence economies.
Second, the scary possibilities conjured up in the federal government's forthcoming national assessment constitute a minority view among mainstream economists and ecologists. To take only one exam ple, "The Economic Impact of Climate Change on the United States Economy," a book of academic essays just published by Cambridge University Press, concludes that the moderate amount of global warming now predicted will produce more benefits than costs.
If we are searching for new liability lawsuit targets, I'd suggest taking a look at the global scaremongering industry first. Since the early 1970s, the Club of Rome, Paul Ehrlich, the Worldwatch Institute and a host of others have been predicting that the world is on the verge of mass famines, plagues, running out of fossil fuels and a new ice age.
Not only have these disasters not occurred but the world has more food per capita, less disease and larger and cheaper energy reserves every decade.
The prophecies of doom have led to enormous misallocations of resources and done untold psychological damage. With a bright, promising world before them, many children now fear the future.
Today scant scientific evidence but new dire warnings maintain that global warming poses catastrophic dangers to mankind. On the other hand, real science and a strong economy are the best tools we have to deal with whatever challenges the future holds.
-- Myron Ebell
The writer directs global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and chairs the Cooler Heads Coalition.