, PRESIDENT OF THE HEARTLAND INSTITUTE
The following is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made by James Taylor during a Newsweek podcast debate on climate change. You can listen to the podcast here: The Debate
For the vast majority of the time that human civilization has existed, temperatures have been significantly warmer than today. More than 30,000 scientists have signed on to a paper saying that we’re not facing a climate emergency.
Throughout the history of the earth, a more normal level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been about 1000 parts per million, not the 420 ppm we see today. The fact that carbon dioxide levels are so high, and yet compared to over the past few 100 or few 1,000 years, temperatures are lower than they’ve been throughout most of human civilization, tells you that carbon dioxide is not the control knob for global temperatures.
I believe humans may be playing some role in that warming. But saying you know for sure—I think that’s really taking a leap of logic. The American Meteorological Society is the only scientific body in the world whose full membership has been polled extensively on this issue. And when they are asked, “How concerned are you?” only 30 percent say they are very concerned.
We know for a fact that the earth is greening; NASA satellites have measured it. We also know for a fact that crop production is setting records nearly every year in most countries. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they have very low confidence of any negative observed impacts between global warming and severe weather events. NASA satellites have measured a decline in global wildfires. We see beneficial impacts from more atmospheric carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures.
It is very important to have affordable and abundant energy; that’s the lifeblood of any economy. There’s a reason why in virtually every country in the world, new energy projects being built and being implemented are coal and natural gas, primarily. I don’t think that the leaders in virtually every country in the world lack intelligence; I don’t think they’re stupid. There’s a reason why coal and natural gas dominate energy production. If and when the day comes that wind power, solar power can compete with coal and natural gas, I’ll be the first one cheering them on.
China emits 30 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions; the United States admits 14 percent. Since the turn of the century, the United States has reduced our emissions by 14 percent, whereas the rest of the world has increased its emissions by 66 percent. Which makes me wonder, why it is that people say “The United States needs to take action to get in line with the rest of the world or is undermining some global action,” when the rest of the world should be beating a path to our door saying, “Hey, how do we do this?”
We’re doing it through the free market, we’re doing it through technology, we’re doing it through natural gas, that through economic factors is replacing coal power.
The United States has the world’s largest economy with the most gross domestic product, and yet China’s emissions are more than twice ours. If we had completely eliminated our emissions at the turn of the century, global emissions would still be rising.
The United States has been reducing our emissions, and we will continue to do so. But if there’s going to be some form of climate action, I don’t believe that we should force other nations to do so, because we’re not facing a climate crisis. The focus should be on making sure that we are not hamstringing American consumers and American businesses by self-inflicted economic wounds in the name of global warming when China and the rest of the world don’t care and don’t act.
James Taylor is the president of the Heartland Institute.
, CHIEF COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, THE WOODWELL CLIMATE RESEARCH CENTER
There is extensive science that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are completely unprecedented. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have not been this high in over 800,000 years. Modern humans have been around for a little bit less than half that. If you look at the last 10,000 years, at the evolution of agriculture, at the entire development of civilization, that has all taken place in a time of remarkable climate stability. It’s that stability that has made it possible for civilization and the societies we know to develop.
The fact that we are now so far outside the bounds of anything that we’ve seen in the course of human evolution is an emergency. It’s a cause for huge concern.
Carbon dioxide has always been in the atmosphere and it’s an incredibly important part of our planet that we have had this warming layer. What’s really critical here is to realize is that you can cherry-pick specific statistics to support an argument, but there is no scientific debate about the fact that the buildup of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is causing dangerous climate change.
So you have to really stop and ask a deep question: What would drive some people to deny an overwhelming body of science that tells us we are headed in a really dangerous direction?We have a body of science that has begun answering that question. There are a few answers, but in general, what seems to motivate this denial is that when information conflicts with a deeply held worldview, deeply held values or beliefs, we will often reject that information.When we talk to climate scientists there is no question that human beings are causing dangerous climate change. This conclusion has been come to over and over in large consensus reports in individual studies. Does that mean we know every single thing about climate change? Absolutely not, and nobody’s claiming that. But we certainly know enough to know that we are in the midst of an emergency and that we need to act urgently and dramatically to respond to it.
It’s really a false dichotomy that has been around for a long time, that we have to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy, when in actual fact, what the science tells us is that a healthy environment is the underpinning of a healthy economy.
At Woodwell Climate Research Center, we’ve been working with McKinsey and Company, and what our work is showing is that climate change is material, it poses material risks to economic prosperity. Investments in green energy in renewable energy, in the kinds of changes that we need to make to meet the challenge of climate change, they actually earn back more than you invest in them.
In the past month, we have seen more than 500 deaths due to climate change- fueled extreme weather events. They are more extreme and made more extreme and more deadly by climate change.
Heather Goldstone is the chief communications officer of the Woodwell Climate Research Center.