This just in: You can’t elect a better climate

People who advocate significant changes to prevent global warming appear to be the new Puritans, and their influence seems to be reaching the local level.

Rather than merely argue over international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol, we now find ourselves considering more parochial ideas.

The visit from Seattle’s mayor to promote his concept of municipal action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions may not be the same as a visit from “the Goracle” (Al Gore), but it is a harbinger of things to come.

Mayors Nickels of Seattle, Bozeman of Bremerton, and Kordonowy of Bainbridge Island have “taken the pledge,” so more will probably fall into line.

The puritanical way of handling those who disagree is to be disagreeable toward them. And what ambitious politician would risk being an outcast among his peers?

The effect could be to use government power to impose more rules or conditions restricting where we live and work – whether by prohibitions or simply raising the costs of undesired activities.

Consider, for example, the desire of the great majority of people to have the ability to drive where and when we need or want.

Unless sufficient highway and road capacity is provided through new construction, the cost in time wasted while slogging through severe traffic congestion frustrates the majority.

Yet, building more roads is anathema. It would enable the commission of the twin sins of “urban sprawl” and driving rather than using public transit systems.

Never mind that population growth and development of urban cores may reach the point at which it only makes sense to enable the start of new, outlying urban areas.

Ignore the fact that enabling highway traffic to move at a relatively smooth 55 mph during the rush hours saves time, money and fuel compared to stop-and-go traffic jams. Even though saving fuel reduces the dreaded “greenhouse gases” emitted by automobiles, its benefits must be forgone for the sake of purity.

Instead, the new Puritans prefer to spend large amounts of public money on public transit ($29 million in Kitsap this year) and possibly passenger-only ferries ($12 million a year under the most recently rejected tax proposal).

Once such ideas take root, they are hard to resist. It only takes one election victory to impose the needed tax increase for all time, so the few defeats at the polls are shrugged off.

Sometimes the cost of implementing a change to a more virtuous life comes not in taxes but in the prices we must pay.

For example, voters approved Initiative 937 last year to require large utility companies to obtain electric power from renewable resources (not counting our hydroelectric dams).

The cost will probably be higher, but a slim majority in favor of the idea has put it into effect – and the next Ice Age is more likely to occur before the rule is abandoned.

It’s not that all ideas for improving energy efficiency and thereby reducing emissions are bad. Most individuals and virtually all private corporations constantly seek more efficiency — and therefore less cost.

The combined effect of individual investments and actions made by free people generally moves us in the desired direction despite the mistakes made by a portion of the population.

But the effect of an unwise investment or rule imposed by government is magnified by the number of people who must pay for it or obey it.

Since the underlying motivation of the new Puritans is their firm (and often dogmatic) belief that actions of mankind are causing global warming, the rest of us need to find out more about the subject than we might otherwise want to know.

If you are going to be treated as a heretic, you had better be ready to defend yourself among people whose minds have not yet slammed shut on the subject.

The central question is whether global warming is probably unavoidable, since we must have the resources to adapt if it is.

Squandering those resources on useless actions, investments and restrictions would mean we would suffer more severely when the inevitable warming occurs.

Two books should be read by all who wonder whether the rising temperatures since the end of the Little Ice Age in the mid-1800s are mostly the result of natural climate change: “Unstoppable Global Warming” by S. Fred Singer and Dennis Avery; and “The Chilling Stars” by Henrik Svensmark and Nigel Calder.

These books are not necessarily correct, but they offer credible natural explanations for the climate changes in the past 150 years compared to previous warming and cooling periods.

We all have to form our opinions of the possible risks and benefits for one proposal or another, and we should consider all sides of the debate.

And, when dealing with the new Puritans, consider the advice of Andre Gide: “Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.”

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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