We Can't Afford to Follow Al Gore

     Now that Al Gore has won an Oscar for “An Inconvenient Truth,” he headed to Capitol Hill to perform before an even more important crowd: lawmakers who could pass legislation that would make energy unaffordable for many Americans.

     And the media have already rolled out the red carpet for his activism, taking every opportunity to promote green politics, from personal carbon “offsets” to massive legislation.

      “An Inconvenient Truth” purports to be a non-partisan, non-ideological exposition of climate science. In reality, it is a Sci-Fi disaster film in the guise of a documentary.

     Example: Gore bombards us with scene after scene of devastation from hurricanes, floods, droughts and the like, creating the impression that global warming has made the world a more dangerous place. In reality, both mortality rates and aggregate mortality related to extreme weather events have declined by about 95 percent since the 1920s. The world has become safer as it warmed up!

     Example: Gore warns that half the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and half the Greenland Ice Sheet could melt or break off and slide into the sea, raising sea levels by 20 feet in our lifetimes or those of our children. No scientific studies support this claim.

     When the former vice president calls global warming “a moral issue,” he implies that all right-thinking people must support the Kyoto Protocol global warming treaty or similar regulation to curb emissions of carbon dioxide. However, neither Gore nor the media consider the obvious moral objection to his agenda: its enormous potential to perpetuate global poverty.

     Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the inescapable byproduct of most of the energy that fuels America’s, and the world’s, economy. Stabilizing atmospheric CO2 levels is not even remotely possible unless China, India and other developing countries restrict their use of carbon-based energy.

     Consequently, Kyoto advocates view the treaty as just a “first step” in a long march toward a de-carbonized future. But the global economy is moving in exactly the opposite direction. Demand for fossil energy is growing, especially in developing countries.

     The federal Energy Information Administration projects a 71-percent increase in global energy consumption between 2003 and 2030, with three-quarters of the increase occurring in developing countries. And in 2030 as in 2003, fossil fuels are projected to supply about 86 percent of world energy consumption.

     Energy poverty is a scourge, shortening the lives and impairing the health of untold millions of people around the globe. An estimated 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity. And some 2.4 billion people still rely on traditional biomass – wood, crop waste, and dung – for cooking and heating.

     Reliance on traditional biomass causes daily indoor air pollution many times dirtier than outdoor in the world’s most polluted cities, and kills about 2.8 million people a year, most of them women and children. It takes a heavy toll on forests and wildlife habitat. For people living in energy poverty, “backbreaking labor” is not a metaphor but a daily reality.

     The real inconvenient truth is that nobody knows how to meet current much less future global energy needs with low- and zero-emission technologies. In the policy-relevant future, affordable energy for most of the world is going to be carbon-based, CO2-emitting energy.

     Even in wealthy countries like the United States, carbon suppression schemes can inflict hardship on low-income households. Millions of families already feel pinched by the high cost of gasoline, natural gas, and home heating oil. A Kyoto-style system would make energy even more costly for consumers.

     Many U.S. politicians professed outrage in 2005 when gasoline prices spiked above $3 a gallon. Consumers pay twice as much for gasoline in some European countries, due to heavy motor fuel taxes. Yet from 1990 to 2004, E.U. transport sector CO2 emissions increased almost 26 percent and are projected under current policies to be 35 percent above 1990 levels in 2010.

     How much higher than European-level gasoline prices does Gore think Americans should have to pay? He should at least admit that the pursuit of carbon stabilization has the potential to do more harm than good. And journalists should do their job – investigating ambitious politicians’ claims.

     Gore somehow sees nothing immoral in the attempt to make fossil energy scarcer and more costly in a world where billions suffer in energy poverty. There is nothing moral about putting an energy-starved world on an energy diet.

Marlo Lewis is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and author of Al Gore’s Science Fiction: A Skeptic’s Guide to “An Inconvenient Truth.” He also serves as a guest columnist for the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute.