Last Sunday's New York Times reported that oil companies, electric utilities and other industry opponents of the Kyoto treaty to fight global warming have drafted what the paper called "an ambitious proposal to spend millions of dollars to convince the public that the environmental accord is based on shaky science." The plan was leaked to the paper by the National Environmental Trust, a foundation-supported global warming advocacy group whose president, according to the Times is trying to "ruin the effort to raise money to carry out the plan."
It's no wonder global warming enthusiasts want to kill the baby in the crib. The awakening of a pro-consumer coalition is not good news to global warming "experts," many mainstream foundations, and federal bureaucrats who have been telling one side of the story for years--and whose views have gone largely unchallenged. The well-funded global warming lobby had a largely free ride because the Clinton-Gore administration became an advocate, thereby stifling the global warming debate inside government; timid industry groups, which should be providing muscle for business and consumer interests, tried for too long to accommodate government regulators and environmental activists; and the nation's mainstream media largely accepted each element of the global warming argument. Those were, first, that global warming is already a reality; second, that global warming is a result or at least is speeded up by human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels; and third, that the coercive power of government can and should be used to stop or slow down climate change.
Even though the global warming mantra is widely accepted by most mainstream reporters and commentators, each assertion has compelling evidence on the other side. First, the climate is always changing. The issue is how much, how fast, and in what direction. There is a lot of disagreement on these issues--indeed, some believe we are headed for a new ice age. Bottom line: Contrarian evidence deserves to see the light of day and to be debated and weighed by the public.
Second, many of those who think the planet is getting warmer point to natural causes--not human activities--as the primary drivers. Example: Some point to evidence that the Antarctic ice cap is melting because of volcanic action beneath the continent--not because surrounding temperatures are warming.
Third, even among those who believe the climate is getting warmer and that humans are causing it, many believe that climate change is inevitable and that public policy should aim to accommodate change, not stop it. Example: Quit providing government-subsidized flood insurance for people building on barrier islands or coastal plains.
These are real issues where both sides need to be presented in the sunshine and debated by the public. So far, dissenting views by serious and respected scientists have been too often ignored by the media. Both sides also need to be presented in textbooks used to teach our kids about environmental issues.
Maybe the energy companies and electric utilities that have sponsored so many outstanding and award-winning productions for PBS can now sponsor a true national debate presenting both the pros and cons of the warming scenario so that the American public can actively participate in policy-making about global warming, an arena long dominated by experts and bureaucrats.
A lot is at stake, expecially if government policies to force reductions in fossil fuel consumption may lead to more global poverty, new threats to public health and safety, and even more environmental degradation.
Philip M Burgess, president of the Denver-based Center for the New West, can be reached on the Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org
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