With Seattle’s hot streak of weather in June, it was only a matter of time before someone tried to use it to make the case for “doing something” about climate change. Timothy Egan did just that in the July 3 New York Times, in which he pleads:
“Before giving in to a future in which the Pacific Northwest bakes, burns and shrivels, we have to defend the natural world — place by place.”
To his credit, he concedes that:
“The experts…do not think that the broiling of the Pacific Northwest can be attributed to climate change. Rather, they credit a huge dome of high pressure to the west and warm ocean temperatures.”
However, he goes on to use this period of warm weather to paint an apocalyptic future of major wildfires and the dying out of our beloved salmon, apples, cherries, wine grapes and more.
Although he offers no solutions, Egan lays the blame at the feet of man and carbon dioxide emissions, suggesting that we need policies to address this root cause. He applauds Pope Francis’s recent plea to take “care of our common home”, but suggests that’s futile right now and we need to act out of self-interest in Seattle.
I’m all for acting out of self-interest too. As Adam Smith wrote in the 18th century, it’s only by people acting in their self-interest that markets work, wealth is created and public welfare is improved. In the case of Seattle and what to do, if anything, about climate change, we ought to look at what science says about warming that has occurred here over the past hundred years or so.
Last year we learned that the 1 degree Celsius increase in temperatures on the West Coast since 1900 is entirely due to natural factors. As Nate Mantua, a co-author of the peer-reviewed study said at the time (I commented on it at the time in more detail here and here):
“It’s a simple story, but the results are very surprising: We do not see a human hand in the warming of the West Coast.”
His co-author, Jim Johnstone, was reported as saying:
“The winds have changed in a manner that explains virtually all of the coastal ocean warming. The winds appear to decide it all.”
If we follow Egan’s logic – that we ought to act in our self-interest – drastic measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be both very costly and do us no good whatsoever. That’s particularly the case in the Pacific Northwest, where we generate much of our electricity from hydro-electric dams and have considerably lower emissions per capita than most other states. Given that science suggests man has nothing to do with local climate change, concentrating on carbon emission reductions is a fool’s errand.
Spending hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars on cutting carbon emissions also seems crazy given we’re now in our 18th year of no global warming, a trend which, as I wrote in 2014, some scientists expect to continue for another 20 years. On the subject of local trends, having studied the topic closely, Johnstone told the Seattle Times, “I don’t know whether it will warm or cool or stay flat.”
Given this uncertainty, the fact that nature is believed to be the cause of our local warming, and following Egan’s approach, our best response is to harness one of Seattle’s best assets – technology – and adapt to protect the things we hold dear.
First posted at SoundPolitics.com.