ImageA small college I know pretty well has proudly announced that it is “going green”. What does this mean? Mainly, that the napkins and paper-ware ” in its cafeteria and coffee shop will be made from “recycled” paper instead of from paper manufactured from trees. Theoretically, this saves many trees from destruction. Not a bad thing. Who could possibly object?

Certainly not I. But I do like to know what we’re trying to do with any new direction – and where we’re likely to end up. Let’s look at the “green” campaign today. First of all, is there a problem with trees? Are we really in danger of using them up? By everything I have been able to glean from myriad articles on the subject, we are in no such danger. Large tracts of land formerly used for crops – or else for grazing – early in the twentieth century have now reverted to forest cover.

It is difficult to find exact statistics on how much land is forested now, versus 1900, 1800, etc. One suspects that the data are hard to find because they serve no useful purpose – i.e., financial purpose (as in government-funding). If forestation levels really had fallen radically since 1900, one assumes the data would be trumpeted loudly. We hear, “the trees, oh the trees…” but no data. This should tell us something. If there’s really a problem, there should be data.

So if there is not truly a problem about trees, exactly what are we trying to do vis-à-vis the napkins, paper plates, and the whole environmental “thing”? Well, of course, we’re trying to prevent climate change – the new PC buzzword. (“Warming” is no longer the alarm because the climate hasn’t really warmed since 1998.) The cause has changed to preventing climate change because, presumably, we like the climate the way it is and don’t want any change.

But isn’t change embraced as “good” in almost every other instance? – e.g., societal, cultural, religious, educational, political, etc. Why is climate change considered so bad that we must make radical changes (oops) in our lifestyles to keep it from happening? Why are lifestyle changes OK, while change in the climate is not OK?

These questions are not easy to answer – mainly because the positions they represent make very little sense. In the first place, it is far from clear that climate change is bad. In fact, climate variations have occurred several times, just in my own lifetime, without the world ending. Scientists say that 1870-1940 was a warm era. Temperatures rose enough to be noticeably above levels that characterized the long, cold era commonly called “The Little Ice Age” (ca. 1450-1870). The 1870-1940 warm era occurred before the world was fully industrialized – i.e., especially, before the automobile age was in full swing. Thus, its cause is unclear, since carbon dioxide levels were not being increased by industrial and automotive emissions.

Around the time that World War II got going (1940), with its heavy industrial development and weapons use, the climate actually began to cool. The Battle of the Bulge (1944-’45) occurred during Europe’s coldest winter in 50 years. Conditions were desperately cold during the U. S. Army’s 1950 retreat at Chosen Reservoir, Korea. We had some very heavy snows and cold winters during my childhood and adulthood (1958, 1966, 1979). By the end of the 1970s, reports were appearing about a possible “new ice age”. In the winter of 1979-’80 we saw temperatures of -15° (F) at our home in Maryland. Cars were being driven across the ice on the Potomac River, near Washington, DC. Scientists said it was a new deep freeze.

During 1940-‘80, industrial development reached new heights. Carbon dioxide was pouring into the atmosphere, year by year. Yet temperatures kept going down. No one wondered about this at the time because scientists, reporters and politicians were not yet turned on to climate change. (No one suggested that we burn more coal or drive more miles to “warm” the climate.)

Then, the climate began to warm again. No one knew why. It just happened. But political opportunists like Al Gore started beating the drum about carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases”, saying industrial and automotive emissions were causing the warming. Sensing new markets for green products and technologies, businesses got on board. Government started letting contracts to “study” climate change and possibly stop it. At this writing, the U. S. government is funding climate research to the tune of $4 billion a year. The mainstream media are in full cry, publishing articles, books and reports predicting environmental doom if we don’t make wholesale changes (there’s that word again) in our lives.

Al Gore is making a nice living with his “Inconvenient Truth” road show, preaching the Gospel of Green (i.e., conservation, radical lifestyle change, higher taxes) and scaring folks who need cars for their livelihoods and air conditioning so they can live in places like Tennessee. (Big Al lives there in a 20,000 square-foot house whose utility bills are 10 times yours and mine.) Al – who flies all over in a private jet – says the icecaps are going to melt, New York will be under water, and all the polar bears are going to die if we don’t stop driving SUVs.

Radical environmentalists envision a purified planet with 300 million people living in pristine simplicity – hunting, gathering, protecting the earth, and freezing their butts off in grass huts. (We have 6 billion people now. What happens to the other 5.7 billion?) Friends in upstate New York report that their town paid for some Oregon children to come talk to them about the charm of primitive life in Africa. (A pleasure that their own parents have, regrettably, not yet embraced.)

But I digress. Dr. Timothy Ball, a Canadian, and Dr. Fred Singer, an American – both respected climate scientists – are among a growing number of scientists who note that while warming did take place from 1980-’98, temperatures have remained essentially flat since 1998. Whatever the advantages or disadvantages of climate change might seem to be, it does not appear to be occurring now. This is confusing, since carbon dioxide emissions certainly continue apace. Many scientists are now pointing to the sun as the true determiner of climate. Nevertheless, the “green express” roars onward – seemingly unstoppable. Why is this?

The short answer is “money”. It’s all about dollars, not data. If Mel Brooks made a film about the climate change movement, he would have some character saying, “Data? We don’t need no steenking data.” Notwithstanding a lack of conclusive data, and a vigorous debate within the scientific community about the cause of climate change, the movement’s prime movers and shakers believe they have convinced the public that a climate “emergency” is at hand. They think we can be had for zillions in new taxes and “green” products to stop climate-change – or, at least, to make us think we’re stopping it. Technical companies are feverishly preparing new commodities. It is a glorious new opportunity for many industries – reminiscent of the cloro-fluorocarbon scare of the 1980s when we spent billions on new air conditioners and refrigerators, all to no real purpose. (Scientists now say CFCs do not damage the ozone layer.)

One of the industries poised to make a bundle is insurance. In an article recently published by the Washington Post – “The Climate Change Peril That Insurers See” – authors John Morrison (state auditor of Montana) and Alex Sink (CFO of Florida) [1] report that the property insurance industry now “believes” greenhouse gas emissions are warming the climate and causing extreme weather, including hurricanes and wildfires. The authors note: “Seven of the 10 most expensive catastrophes for the U. S. property and casualty industry happened between 2001 and 2005”. To them, it is self-evident that climate change is causing more extreme weather. They fully concur with the policy statement of major U. S. insurer AIG that “…recognizes the scientific consensus that climate change is a reality and is likely in large part the result of human activities that have led to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere.”

There is much more in the Morrison-Sink article [2], which I cannot reproduce here. But the bottom line is that insurers have seized on media-hyped hysteria to cite a threat to “insurance as we know it”, based on a supposed linkage between greenhouse-gas emissions, climate change, and extreme weather. Only the most oblique reference is made of “more Americans living in harm’s way”.  The industry’s major focus is on climate-change/warming. Insurers are calling on government to stop climate-change by cutting carbon emissions 60-80% by mid-century – or else.

Or else what? Obviously, or else insurers will raise rates precipitously, as they did after hurricane “predictors” – a claque of unaccountable university climate geeks – predicted 17 named storms, 9 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes in 2006. The predictions included an 81% probability estimate that a hurricane would hit the coast of the United States. The insurance industry made big bucks on those high premiums when no hurricanes hit our coasts during 2006 – a first in recorded history. Media forecasters who had hoped for another Katrina-like disaster were visibly disappointed as one hurricane possibility after another fizzled in the Atlantic.

Insurers, however, were popping champagne corks. Shares in a Swiss reinsurance company (whose bonds I was invested in) went from 25 to 110. The insurance business did almost as well in 2007, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted 13-17 named storms, 7-10 hurricanes, and 3-5 major hurricanes in an “above normal” season. To date, no hurricanes have hit the U. S. coast, with the 2007 season almost over.

Noted climate experts have said repeatedly that warming does not cause “intense” storms – contrary to insurers’ claims – and that we are not, in fact, in an era of more intense storms. It only seems that way because of 24/7 satellite news coverage and overbuilding in hurricane-prone coastal zones. Scientists say the same about icecap melting. We only think it is a problem because we can now see it happening via satellite. It happens every spring and summer, as it has for eons.

The insurance “holdup” is, I predict, only the first expensive result of the climate-change mania. An entire (and critical) financial industry is pegging future increased premiums to a postulated risk based on an unproven climate theory, and no one is calling them on it. When traders bid oil futures up on similar suppositions, politicians jump all over the industry, charging price gouging. Where is the outcry about insurers doing the same thing? Politicians are quiet about it, I suggest, because they hope to roll us in the same way: i.e., we all need to pay higher taxes to stop destructive climate-change. But as Dr. Nigel Lawson [3] says, “It is all rubbish.”

Americans are about to be subjected to the greatest swindle in history: new taxes and higher prices – not in response to real events, but in anticipation of events whose occurrence is only a theory. It is a politicians’ and businessmen’s dream. If we buy this, we’ll buy anything. And we obviously have waaay too much money.

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[1] Both Mr. Morrison and Mr. Sink are members of the Climate Change Task Force of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

[2] See the Morrison-Sink article at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/26/AR2007092602070_pf.html      

[3] Dr. Lawson (Baron of Blaby) is former British Chancellor of the Exchequer and lecturer on the politics and finances of climate and the environment. See his lecture, “An Appeal to Reason” at http://www.fahayek.org/gazette/imagesup/NLawson.pdf