Rising Seas and Government Greed

Rising gas prices are an immediate problem — rising seas are not.  Yet in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Biden had nothing new to say about bringing gas prices down.  Releasing a few barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is not a solution; it's a Band-Aid that will last about two days.  Yet all that Biden can do is repeat the outworn bromide that global warming is a catastrophe bringing drought, storms, and rising seas.

According to most estimates, global sea levels rose by five inches in the 20th century.  That's five inches for the entire century, not per year.  That is the most recent century we have as a basis for future predictions.

Climate scientists believe that ocean levels will rise at twice that rate through the 21st century, but they have been wrong about many things, and their behavior often appears to be politically motivated.  One can speculate about the future, but the past does not lie.

In a few locations, such as Venice, Italy, five or ten inches might make a difference in a city's daily life.  In Omaha or Nashville, it really doesn't matter.  In fact, there's practically no place in America where a modest rise in sea levels will make a difference in one's way of life.  But a rise in gas prices will — as will higher taxes to pay for addressing climate change, despite the fact that human efforts will not actually prevent the climate from changing.

In his latest research, Bjorn Lomborg shows that "US climate policies, in the most optimistic circumstances, fully achieved and adhered to throughout the century, will reduce global temperatures by 0.031°C (0.057°F) by 2100."  Not one degree or one-tenth of one degree.  That's half of one-tenth of one degree if we entirely eliminate fossil fuels, restrict growth and travel, dramatically reduce meat consumption, and make other sacrifices necessary to comply with the Paris Agreement for the next 80 years — and beginning immediately.

Biden believes that the sacrifice is worth it, so it was a centerpiece of his speech last week.  But the almost immediate elimination of fossil fuels will bring power outages, an end to economic growth and prosperity, and shorter life expectancy (as Americans live in the cold; drive smaller, more dangerous cars; and suffer from less medical research and poorer treatment).

Worst of all, restrictions on domestic oil and gas drilling leave us beholden to Russia, Iran, and Venezuela, and with no strategic leverage abroad.  The costs of the Paris Agreement are immense, while the benefit, as Lomborg shows, is negligible at best.  Remarkably, in the best-case scenario, and if the Paris Agreement were fully implemented not just by Europe and the U.S., but by China, India, and other developing countries, these sacrifices will have no perceptible effect.  We will have sacrificed our prosperity, our military strength, our health, and our happiness for nothing.

Progressives want to spend whatever it takes to alter the climate, but it is impossible to alter the climate even in one hundred years.  It is a fool's errand, and more so because the world's other largest carbon emitters — China, India, and Russia — are not participating.

Wouldn't we be better off lowering taxes and allowing local governments to deal with rising seas if they continue to rise?  Low areas in many places can be defended with sea walls.  Others that lie far below sea level would be better off abandoned.  As nature slowly warms the planet, we have the ability to deal with it as long as we have the revenue to do so.  As nature cools the planet, as it certainly will again, we must deal with that, too.  But we cannot deal with the natural cycles of warming and cooling if government makes us poor.  Sea walls are expensive, as are properly insulated homes and businesses that protect against the cold.

Radicals would have us spend far more than we do today to "combat climate change," a fictitious phrase since, according to the liberal website fivethirtyeight.com, the hundreds of billions we have spent since 1993 to prevent climate change have not prevented climate change at all.  In fact, according to the OMB, "94 percent of the money was going to programs that weren't primarily focused on climate change."  Spending in the name of climate change has been a shambles since "government doesn't keep good track of how much it's spending," and much of the money just seems to disappear.

Where does climate change spending go?  To career politicians like Joe Biden, to the Democrat party, to tens of thousands of academics and "climate experts," to a growing climate bureaucracy, and to simple graft and corruption.  No wonder Democrats support the Paris Agreement — it's Pigs at the Trough for progressives.

Now climate change activists are talking about spending not hundreds of billions, but ten trillion, as much as half of our current annual GDP.  It is reasonable to assume that much of that money — as much as 94% — will disappear as well.  If it does, that will be the greatest theft in human history.  Ninety-four percent of $10 trillion is roughly $50,000 for every American adult.  And that's in addition to even greater compliance costs shifted onto local communities, businesses, and individuals.

The real threat to the U.S. is not climate change; it is, as always, the danger of war and of economic decline, both of which will affect us if war spreads beyond Ukraine into eastern Europe.  Spending trillions of dollars on climate change weakens America's ability to deal with its adversaries and to attract and secure allies.  We have already spent hundreds of billions on climate change without knowing where that money went — not, according to the OMB, into actual climate change efforts (which, according to Bjorn Lomborg, would not perceptibly change the Earth's climate anyway).

As a nation, we are weaker and poorer as a result of climate change spending.  As individuals, we will have less money to fund education, housing, consumer spending, health care, and other vital activities, or just to spend as we like.  In his State of the Union speech, Biden promised a cure for cancer, but by spending more on climate change, we ensure less medical research as funding is sucked out of the private sector.  Those who focus on the narrow issue of climate change are callously ignoring this fact, and the even greater suffering should the U.S. be defeated by China or another adversary in a future war.  The U.S. can deal with rising seas of five inches or even ten inches per century, but we cannot deal with enslavement by another nation, which is what liberals have disregarded.

There are many countries that lie partially below sea level and have built secure sea walls to protect their land.  Many of these countries are increasing their efforts, as has Holland, which has spent many billions of dollars on an innovative series of dams to protect against rising seas in the future.  If the Dutch people really believed that the Paris Agreement could lower the seas, they would not be spending that money.  Instead, they are following the prudent course of protecting themselves, regardless of future outcomes.

Unlike Holland, the U.S. is in danger of not spending where necessary, and of spending vast amounts where not necessary.

It is impossible to predict the future of the Earth's climate.  In just a few years, warming can shift to cooling, and problems like rising seas can be replaced by extreme cold, failing crops, and falling seas, which would be a major problem for coastal areas, harbors, and the Panama and Suez canals.

What we must do is lower taxes and eliminate government spending so individuals can protect themselves and allow local governments to build dikes and dams to protect against modestly rising seas.

Historically, the U.S. GDP has increased by a factor of nine every century.  That will not continue if we decide to squander half of our economy on climate spending.  Our great-grandchildren could be living with average real, inflation-adjusted annual incomes of $572,000 per capita instead of $63,500 if only we restrain government spending on climate change and nearly all else.

Or they could be living on $6,000 per year as economic slaves to China.  It's our choice.  Either way, it's not rising seas that are most worrying.  It's our freedom and prosperity.  Spending on climate change threatens both.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture, most recently Heartland of the Imagination (2011).

Image via Pixabay.

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