Does Walker Have Losing Strategy for Global Warming?
States that are unfriendly to new technologies confronting the problem could be economic losers.
The results are in and 2014 was the warmest year on record. The chart below shows the global land and ocean anomaly since 1895. An anomaly is calculated by subtracting the average temperature over a long period from the average global temperature for that year. These numbers are taken from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center.
The peak anomaly in 1998 led to claims that global warming had stopped. Clearly it has continued. It is important not to confuse variability with the trend.
Not surprisingly, average yearly temperatures in a limited land mass, such as the United States, show more variability, since a high in one part of the nation has less chance of being offset by a low elsewhere. That said the US shows the same overall trend over time, as shown on the next graph. At least since the 1970s US temperatures have shown an overall upward trend. So far, the highest average US temperature occurred two years ago, in 2012.
The New York Times report on the results for 2014 includes a world map showing hotter and colder anomalies around the world. The cold anomalies were few and far between, mostly over Antarctica, Greenland, and the mid-Atlantic. The only highly populated area with a cold anomaly was centered over the Great Lakes, with Wisconsin at its center, as shown in the next picture. Those of us who lived through the last few remarkably comfortable Wisconsin summers and bitter winters will not be surprised.
By comparison, California and most of the West Coast have suffered through very hot and dry summers. If these conditions continue it is likely much of California agriculture will disappear. While some climate scientists believe that the pattern—hot west, cool Midwest—can be explained by global warming, others believe it reflects normal regional variability superimposed upon the global warming trend.
The final chart shows the anomaly for Wisconsin. As with the US chart, 2012, rather than 2014, turns out to be the peak. In fact 2014 turns out to be one of the colder years on record.
The recent Great Lakes cold anomaly supports the hand of those wishing to deny that global warming is real. When experience contradicts science, experience is likely to win the debate for many. One only needs to read the comments on my previous article on climate change to see how common this tendency can be.
When the Washington Post did a rundown of the likely Republican candidates and climate change, the only one it identified as expressing faith in science was Chris Christie. It is perhaps notable that he is the only one of the group with direct experience with the devastation that global warming can cause, in this case with rising sea levels. The others all come from states that so far have avoided severe impacts.
On Scott Walker, the Post commented: “The Wisconsin governor hasn’t gone into detail about his views on climate change, but his actions suggest he’ll be good with the base. He signed a “no climate tax” pledge promising not to support any legislation that would raise taxes to combat climate change and has been a keynote speaker at the climate-denying Heartland Institute. He also apparently dislikes recycling.”
If Wisconsin’s short-term avoidance of global warming supports a climate of skepticism, this could have a negative effect on long-term economic development here. Forecasts about the future of the economy are always dicey, particularly identifying future winners and losers. Yet global warming makes it possible to predict two groups of future winners: organizations that find ways to either inhibit climate change—for example, developing energy sources that don’t generate greenhouse gases—or by ameliorating the effects—for example, finding ways to conserve water. Will state skepticism about the value of their efforts discourage such organizations from considering locating here? Or if they do, will they feel lonely and unloved? All else being equal, new technologies are most likely to develop where they are appreciated and valued.
It is also possible to identify likely long-term losers, industries that contribute to the problem or depend on resources that will be in shorter supply. Coal is one example. Yet, the State of Wisconsin, in its recent comments on EPA proposals to reduce greenhouse gases, seems to have allied itself to the losers, particularly the coal companies and against the new technologies — like wind and solar power — that will develop to confront climate change.