Industrialization has allegedly led to increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) from combustion of fossil fuels. Higher amounts of CO2 have purportedly raised global temperatures. Warmer weather could generate significant changes in our climate. The perception that those changes would be a disaster for the planet has inspired demands for drastic remedies. An example is Vice President Albert Gore’s call for a phaseout of the internal combustion engine over the next few decades. Even more desperate are demands that the Industrial Revolution be reversed and mankind returned to a pre-industrial agricultural mode of life.
The author of this book suggests that the call for drastic action is at best premature. Without challenging the premise that CO2 will double during the next century, he attempts to investigate dispassionately the likely effects. These effects appear to be of a smaller magnitude than many headline-grabbing visions of apocalypse have implied. Further, it is not at all clear that the impacts would, on balance, be negative.
For starters, the global warming experienced since the beginnings of industrialization is less than would have been predicted by the same models that are now being used to predict future disaster. This suggests that the link between CO2 and climate is more complex than many doomsayers acknowledge. Taking this historical record into account, the most probable increase in global temperature over the next century is less than two degrees Fahrenheit. This will not be sufficient to melt polar ice caps and inundate coastal cities as many have feared.
Most of the temperature rise will occur at night, during the winter, and at higher latitudes. In many ways, this pattern of warming would actually be beneficial. The increase in nighttime temperatures will reduce the spread between daily high and low temperatures. This decreases thermal stress on vegetation. Plants would be more likely to survive and thrive under such conditions. This would mean a longer frost-free growing season in many locations. A correspondingly larger agricultural output could be expected. This would lower the cost of food and fiber, mitigating poverty for large segments of the world’s population.
It seems more likely that further economic progress would hold forth more hope for averting environmental disaster. It is progress that has improved energy efficiency. It is progress that is enabling improved communication of information.
If the economic growth that naturally flows from economic freedom can continue to fuel technology, the next couple of generations of human beings will probably have many more attractive options for dealing with the world they inherit.
John Semmens has been a frequent contributor to The Freeman.