NYT's Friedman on ClimateGate: Global Warming Action Necessary, No Matter Risk or Cost

December 4th, 2009 11:14 AM

What's $200 billion annually, or roughly $1,761 per family per year, if it means lowering by 10 percent the chance that the world is going to end? It's a pittance to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

Friedman made an appearance on CNN's Dec. 3 "Campbell Brown" to promote the paperback release of his book, "Hot, Flat, and Crowded." Brown asked Friedman for his take on the ClimateGate scandal, and he insisted there should be transparency as far as the data is concerned.

"Well, these were hacked e-mails from one of the important climate research centers over in the U.K.," Friedman said. "And, frankly, Campbell, as someone who follows this issue, cares about it, I found some of those e-mails disappointing, frankly in the kind of way in which it seemed that they were trying to keep certain research out, you know, of the discussion, because I think transparency here is really ... is everything. OK. You say this. I say that. Here is my data. Here is your data."

Friedman gave a very simplified analysis of how greenhouse gases in the atmosphere affect the earth's climate.

"That said, OK, to me, we have to understand the whole climate change issue, the climate is the most complex system you can possibly imagine," Friedman continued. "But what do we know? What does your viewer want to know when they think about it? We know that the Earth is enveloped by a greenhouse gas blanket. That's what actually keeps - creates this greenhouse effect that we have a nice warm Earth, even though it is freezing out there, as you know, when you go up in a spaceship, all right?"

And according to Friedman, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would contribute to this "blanket," but he didn't quite explain or account for how much of the CO2 was a product of manmade activity.

"And that greenhouse blanket is made up of CO2 and methane and other greenhouse gases," Friedman said. "If you pump more carbon, more CO2 into that blanket, it will get thicker. When it gets thicker, it will trap more heat. Average temperatures will rise. Ice will melt. What we don't know - and this is what the debate is about - is exactly what the effects will be. We don't know whether 100 percent for sure that something else in the climate won't compensate for that rising temperature. That's what the debate is about between deniers, skeptics, whatever, and scientists."

Note that, even though Friedman was all for letting transparent data shape the debate, his assessment still pits "deniers" and "skeptics" against "scientists," as though no skeptic could ever be a scientist or vice versa.

And based on Friedman's logic, no matter what, there's still a chance that in 3,000 years, global warming gases emitted now could threaten the planet.

"But here's my take on it - maybe it isn't 90 percent, like some of the skeptics say," Friedman said. "Maybe it is 80 percent. Maybe it is 50 percent. But you know what that means? There is a 50 percent chance that - when you put that CO2 in the atmosphere, it stays there for about 3,000 years. So, if we keep putting it there and it stays there for 3,000 years and it does start raising temperatures, it is going to be hot here, Campbell, for a long, long time."

And with that risk - despite the costs and risks to the planet for 3,000 years, without accounting for technological innovation in the year 5009 or before then, action must be taken on manmade global warming now.

"The bottom line is that the risk is still there," Friedman said. "They say it is only - what if they said there is just a 10 percent chance? What if I told you there is a 10 percent chance if you keep smoking you are going to die of cancer? And so - and this ain't 10 percent. This is a lot higher. So, that's kind of how I deal with it."

But whereas giving us cigarettes actually saves money, all the proposals for reducing manmade carbon emissions costs - a lot. As Declan McCullagh pointed out for CBSNews.com back in September, the current proposal from the Obama administration to curb this threat has a very high price tag attached to it.

"The Obama administration has privately concluded that a cap and trade law would cost American taxpayers up to $200 billion a year, the equivalent of hiking personal income taxes by about 15 percent," McCullagh wrote. "A previously unreleased analysis prepared by the U.S. Department of Treasury says the total in new taxes would be between $100 billion to $200 billion a year. At the upper end of the administration's estimate, the cost per American household would be an extra $1,761 a year."

Friedman has been hoping for some sort of forced action on global warming for several years now. On ABC's "Good Morning America" on March 9, 2006, he boldly announced his preference for the future of U.S. energy policy.

"Charlie, if they [Iran] cut off oil and oil went to $100 a barrel - that would make my day, because the sooner we go to $100 a barrel, the sooner we're going to have everyone in America driving a plug-in hybrid car fueled by corn and ethanol," Friedman said. "And I think that would be a great thing. And that would ultimately free us from having to worry about these people."