It's often said that members of Generation Z are clueless, and the signs that these young people held at the November COP27 conference are evidence of that proposition. They fail to see the big picture. Let's accept, for the moment, the premise of their advocacy: that human activities produce greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide, which give rise to atmospheric warming, and thus to some degree of disruption and damage. Even so, as these health-care professionals should know, any cure should not be worse than the disease—but that's precisely what we see in many proposed remedies for climate change.
Climate activists are clamoring for expensive interventions, including massive transformations of energy production, modes of transportation, building design, and even diminished population growth. They also want huge amounts of monetary compensation paid to poor countries to offset climate change-related environmental and economic damage. The most popular interventions include monumental expenditures on subsidies for wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicles. But will these measures produce the desired results? And isn't it possible that depriving taxpayers of the vast resources required to fund climate measures would itself produce negative effects?
The En-ROADS climate model, created by and maintained by Climate Interactive and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, provides answers. En-ROADS is a highly complex, interactive model with a simple interface that allows users to explore and understand the effects of various interventions that influence climate, including the use of coal, nuclear, wind, and solar power, increasing the numbers of electric vehicles (EVs), the planting of trees, and so on.
En-ROADS examines the effects on temperature rise of global implementation of these various parameters out to the year 2100. It predicts that, if nothing is done by then, the planet's temperature will rise by about 3.6 degrees Celsius. Maximal global use of wind turbines, solar panels, and other renewables would reduce that rise by only 0.2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. Maximal incentives for a transition to electric vehicles globally would yield a similar reduction. For shorter periods, such as 30 years from now, those reductions, taken together, would amount to less than 0.05 degrees Celsius—in other words, negligible. Is this worth a price tag of more than $1,000 for every man, woman, and child in the United States?
Why does the model show temperatures rising even if we produce less carbon dioxide? Because carbon dioxide is like a blanket that keeps the warmth of the earth from escaping to space. Since existing carbon dioxide does not break down quickly, the warming will continue as long as more carbon dioxide is being produced.
An important aspect of these predictions is that they are predicated on the entire world following the West's lead and implementing similar policies—a highly unlikely scenario. The "big five" emitters of CO2 are China, the U.S., India, the European Union, and Russia. China's CO2 output has been rising rapidly and is now more than twice as large as that of the U.S. This is not going to change any time soon.
Similarly, India will not willingly sacrifice its rapidly growing economy for a few tenths of a degree of temperature reduction. The U.S. and the European Union have already reduced their CO2 output substantially, but nowhere near enough to compensate for the increases in China and India. And because Russia depends on the sale of fossil fuels and its colder regions are a net beneficiary of global warming, it will certainly not support renewables and electric vehicles.
The reality is that, because the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is still growing, the climate-change remedies being proposed will not prevent global temperatures from rising. Wind turbines and electric vehicles do not reduce the existing CO2 and will produce no meaningful reduction in the rate of temperature increase even if implemented globally—and none at all if implemented mostly by the U.S., Europe, and a few other industrialized countries. It is like trying to bail out the Titanic with a teacup.
But there is more to the story. The confiscation of resources from ordinary Americans necessary to satisfy the kinds of remedies proposed by the scores of U.S. officials attending COP27 would exert an "income effect" that reflects the correlation between wealth and health. It is no coincidence that richer societies or segments of the population have lower mortality rates than poorer ones. This is demonstrable down to the local level: California's Marin County, just north of San Francisco, ranks first in both health and per capita income, while the poorer parts of the state, such as the Central Valley, score poorly on health measures.
Depriving communities of wealth via taxation or regulation deepens their health risks because wealthier individuals can purchase better health care, enjoy more nutritious diets, and lead generally less stressful lives. Reducing wealth creates adverse health effects—for example, an increased incidence of stress-related problems, including ulcers, hypertension, heart attack, depression, and suicide.
Though it is hard to quantify precisely the relationship between mortality and reduced income, academic studies conservatively estimate that every $5 million to $10 million of regulatory costs will induce one additional fatality through this indirect income effect. Therefore, each $1 trillion that the government appropriates for wasteful, ineffective government programs equates to 100,000 additional deaths. John D. Graham, George W. Bush's regulations czar, dubbed such deaths "statistical murder."
In the best scenario, spending trillions on wind turbines, solar panels, and EVs will make no perceptible difference in global warming in our lifetimes. A far better investment would be an aggressive and highly focused research-and-development effort on direct CO2 capture and sequestration and on climate engineering. These measures do not require worldwide collaboration but could be effectively implemented by the U.S. and our allies acting alone. We have discussed these approaches elsewhere.
All major policy decisions involve tradeoffs. Making massive expenditures on futile climate-change initiatives that could be used in more constructive ways, such as reducing global poverty, fails the most basic tenet of health care: first, do no harm.
The desire to "do something, anything" about climate is not confined to youth. If young people merely err out of naivete, then the U.S. representatives at COP27 are full-blown patsies. The desperate-for-a-deal U.S. delegation failed to achieve lower CO2 targets but nevertheless committed Americans to untold billions of dollars in payments to developing countries to help them address the effects of climate change through a "loss and damage" fund. These programs often operate as slush funds for corrupt Third World leaders to enrich themselves and stay in power. And they will show their gratitude to the American taxpayer in the usual way—by claiming that the funds are inadequate and demanding more. Incredibly, China and India, the world's first- and third-largest polluters, respectively, will be exempt from paying into this fund.
How many Americans will become victims of statistical murder so that the U.S. representatives at COP27 can win the admiration of their peers and the climate change lobby?
Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, was a research associate at the NIH and a consulting professor at Stanford University's Institute for International Studies. Tom Hafer was trained as an electrical engineer and developed systems for neutralizing rockets and drones. They were undergraduates together at MIT.
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