Climate Alarmists in Denial
As if this winter weren’t enough, there’s new evidence that the climate is cooling. For those alarmists who still don’t get it, even the International Panel on Climate Change, hardly a group of climate change skeptics, now admits that the last decade and a half has been a period of little change in the Earth’s climate. When a committee of climate activists expresses reservations about global warming, you know it’s getting colder.
Some of the strongest evidence of cooling comes in a recent report on natural gas usage during this past winter. For the first time, the U.S. burned more than 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas this winter, most of it for heating. That was more than the 2.3 trillion cf of 2012-13, and double that of 2011-12.
That evidence is irrefutable. We have lived through a winter of historic proportions – the coldest winter in Vermont’s long history, and the third-coldest for the city of Chicago. But not only do natural gas futures confirm what everyone except climate alarmists already knows about last winter; gas futures also provide evidence about next winter.
Futures traders are highly sophisticated investors who base their trading on all known information. Unlike those who engage in politicized debate over climate issues – like the president this week in his hapless attempt to shore up support for more Solyndra-style spending – futures traders care only about the facts. When they are right about the facts, they stand to make a great deal of money. When they are wrong, they lose big. Consequently, futures trading is one of the most reliable indicators on climate, crop yield, economic growth, and much else.
What traders know is that this winter’s cold weather reduced gas stockpiles to an eleven-year low. Gas contracts often trade up in expectation of summer air-conditioning needs, but the real concern may be that the U.S. gets hit with another winter like the one we just had. What happens to gas prices if supplies run low in the midst of another cold winter? This winter, East Coast spot prices soared to over $25 per million British thermal units, more than five times above the Henry Hub price of about $4.50 per mBtu. Much of that was the result of inadequate pipeline facilities in parts of the northeast, but what happens to the American economy if the national price goes to $25, or even to $10, per mBtu?
As late as April 22, gas futures prices were soaring on predictions of continued cold weather. According to one report, a “chorus of analysts” now question whether the U.S. will have adequate supplies of natural gas to meet heating needs next winter.
What natural gas futures tell us is that the winter of 2014-15 will be cold. And what that tells us is that the Obama administration needs to get behind oil and gas exploration to assure adequate supplies. But for over five years, Obama's administration has done nothing but block exploration on federal lands and attempt to block production on private lands.
In the midst of a developing natural gas supply crisis, Obama is still fighting the last war. In his Walmart speech of May 9, he announced new executive actions to address climate change – unfortunately, not the change that is actually taking place, but its very opposite: the fiction of global warming. Circumventing Congress, Obama wants to toss even more dollars at failing solar and wind projects. In what was one of his most feeble addresses to date, the president also announced that American-made solar panels had been installed at the White House. That should be comforting to those who are shivering through another long, cold winter next year.
The natural gas supply crisis may well turn out to be Obama’s Katrina – only worse, since a nationwide energy shortage in the midst of another cold winter would make Katrina look like a day at the mall.
What is the Obama administration doing to promote gas production? It is calling for more restrictions on drilling to reduce the ancillary release of greenhouse gases. It is expanding endangered species habitats to put many of the best new lease prospects off limits. This includes the promotion of endangered species designation for the Lesser Prairie Chicken. Most Americans, I believe, would say that human welfare is more important than that of the Lesser Prairie Chicken, or any other sort of chicken.
In reality, the administration is doing everything possible to slow oil and gas exploration. This is all about rewarding well-heeled environmentalist donors. Not about the interests of the American people.
As for how long the current period of cooling will last, it’s anyone’s guess. But history shows that a year of extreme cold such as we have just experienced is usually followed by several more.
In the longer view, during the past one million years, the Earth’s climate has shifted 12 times to periods of extreme glaciation. In fact, the Earth has been in the midst of an extended reprieve from the extreme cold that has dominated the Holocene era. There is every reason to suspect that the climate may shift back to the extreme conditions that existed during the Little Ice Age of 1350 to 1850, and climate history has shown that shifts of this kind may take place over a period of just a few decades.
In fact, we may now be in the early stages of such a shift. It is irresponsible for government to ignore the evidence staring us in the face. Obama’s political base is full of climate alarmists who go about with their heads stuck on backwards, but a real statesman would put America’s interests above those of partisan politics. Unfortunately, no one other than the Nobel Peace Prize committee has ever accused Barack Obama of being a true statesman.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books on American politics and culture, including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).