The Trump administration is currently facing a major decision—whether to withdraw the United States from the Paris Accords on climate change.
The President’s instincts are spot on here. He should withdraw the United States from the accords and be prepared to stoutly defend his decision on both political and scientific grounds. Ironically, the best reasons for getting out of the accords are the evident weaknesses in the reasons that a wide range of businesses and environmental groups offer for staying in.
One constant refrain of both large American corporations and environmental groups is that by withdrawing from the Paris Accords, the United States will suffer a “huge missed opportunity” to work on the cutting-edge technologies of wind and solar energy. But why? At this point, solar and wind energy, as the indefatigable Matt Ridley points out, amount to at most a trivial portion of the global energy supply, less than one percent in total. Indeed, most of that production comes from state-subsidized ventures that could never survive on their own. And while firms race to collect government subsidies to develop so-called cleaner energy, none of their research is likely to solve the intractable problem of how to store wind or solar energy efficiently.
Further, to label wind and solar as “green” energy simply ignores the substantial environmental costs associated over their life-cycle of development, fabrication, installation, and maintenance. Covering the ground with huge solar panels is a form of thermal pollution; wind turbines emit a low hum injurious to people and are notorious for killing birds; and mining the materials required for the manufacture of each form of energy results in more environmental harm.
The defenders of the Paris Accords are as dogmatic on the science as they are on the economics. To them, it is an axiomatic truth that carbon dioxide emissions pose a grave threat to the environment, even though the putative causal chain is filled with missing links. The current practice is to assume that every adverse climate event is somehow the result of the rather smallish increases in carbon dioxide levels over the past 65 years. In order to reach that result, however, it is necessary to exclude other explanations for the adverse events.
The situation is even more complex if one looks to the long run. Climate variability has been a constant long before human beings inhabited this earth. Of course, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that can trap energy. But so is water vapor, and its levels are far harder to track because its amount and distribution are not constant across the earth’s surface. Most crucially, observed cyclical patterns of temperature change do not correlate with slow but steady increases in carbon dioxide. Recent work by climate scientists Richard Lindzen and others shows that during the so-called Holocene period (roughly covering the last 11,000 years), there was a negative correlation between temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations—strongly suggesting that carbon dioxide levels cannot be the main driver of temperature changes.
A while back I compiled several sources for the proposition the carbon dioxide levels are not a reliable predictor of climate change: How Much Does Carbon Dioxide Contribute to Global Warming