The Hill, the newspaper that covers Congress, says this year, there will be a major policy battle over "climate change." Why?
We already waste billions on pointless gestures that make people think we're addressing global warming, but the earth doesn't notice or care.
What exactly is "global warming" anyway? That's really four questions:
1. Is the globe warming? Probably. Global temperatures have risen. Climate changes. Always has. Always will.
2. Is the warming caused by man? Maybe. There's decent evidence that at least some of it is.
3. But is global warming a crisis? Far from it. It's possible that it will become a crisis. Some computer models suggest big problems, but the models aren't very accurate. Some turned out to be utterly wrong. Clueless scaremongers like Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Cal., seize on weather disasters to blame man's carbon output. After Oklahoma's tragic tornadoes last year, Boxer stood on the floor of the Senate and shrieked, "Carbon could cost us the planet!" But there were actually fewer tornadoes last summer.
4. If the globe is warming, can America do anything about it? No. What we do now is pointless. I feel righteous riding my bike to work. That's just shallow. Even if all Americans replaced cars with bicycles, switched to fluorescent light bulbs, got solar water heaters, etc., it would have no discernible effect on the climate. China builds a new coal-fueled power plant almost every week; each one obliterates any carbon reduction from all our windmills and solar panels.
Weirdly, the only thing that's reduced America's carbon output has been our increased use of natural gas (it releases less greenhouse gas than oil and coal). But many environmentalists fight the fracking that produces it.
Someday, we'll probably invent technology that could reduce man's greenhouse gas creation, but we're nowhere close to it now. Rather than punish poor people with higher taxes on carbon and award ludicrous subsidies to Al Gore's "green" investments, we should wait for the science to advance.
If serious warming happens, we can adjust, as we've adjusted to big changes throughout history. It will be easier to adjust if America is not broke after wasting our resources on trendy gimmicks like windmills.
Environmental activists say that if we don't love their regulations, we "don't care about the earth." Bunk. We can love nature and still hate the tyranny of bureaucrats' rules.
We do need some rules. It's good that government built sewage treatment plants. Today, the rivers around Manhattan are so clean that I swim in them. It's good that we forced industry to stop polluting the air. Scrubbers in smokestacks and catalytic converters on cars made our lives better. The air gets cleaner every time someone replaces an old car with a new one.
But those were measures against real pollution — soot, particulates, sulfur, etc. What global warming hysterics want to fight is merely carbon dioxide. That's what plants breathe. CO2 may prove to be a problem, but we don't know that now.
The world has real problems, though: malaria, malnutrition, desperate poverty. Our own country, while relatively rich, is deep in debt. Obsessing about greenhouse gases makes it harder to address these more serious problems.
Environmentalists assume that as people get richer and use more energy, they pollute more. The opposite is true. As nations industrialize, they pay more attention to pollution. Around the world, it's the most prosperous nations that now have the cleanest air and water.
Industrialization allows people to use fewer resources. Instead of burning trees for power, we make electricity from natural gas. We figure out how to get more food from smaller pieces of land. And one day we'll probably even invent energy sources more efficient than oil and gas. We'll use them because they're cost-effective, not because government forces us to.
So let's chill out about global warming. We don't need more micromanagement from government. We need less.
Then free people — and rapidly increasing prosperity — will create a better world.
John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."