Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 
Vacationing in Fargo
By David G. Young 

WASHINGTON, December 2, 1997 --  

T he forecast only calls for the temperature to rise into the 20s today in North Dakota -- a cold December day, even for a state used to such a climate. While the stoic Scandinavians who inhabit the state claim they don't mind, demographics tell a different story. Between 1930 and 1990, North Dakota's population declined by 6 percent. Residents voted with their feet and moved to the warmer climates of the sun belt states, whose populations skyrocketed over the same period.

North Dakota isn't alone. States ringing the northern border of the U.S. have experienced similar desettlement, as have northern parts of the Canadian provinces and the colder regions of the Russian Federation. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude that people don't like living in cold places.

For those who do, there may be good news. According to United Nations bureaucrats hosting this week's conference in Kyoto, the world can expect to see temperatures rise substantially over the next few decades due to carbon dioxide emissions. That's bad, they say, because it will disrupt weather patterns, raise sea levels, and... well... make things warmer. This prospect is so frightening to some people that the major world governments are negotiating a treaty to cut carbon dioxide emissions -- and global warming -- by imposing huge punitive taxes on coal, oil, and natural gas usage. If enacted, these taxes will empty the pocketbooks of most Americans, not to mention dash North Dakota's hopes of becoming a major destination resort.

To be fair, scientists are hardly agreed that global warming is happening. Satellite records show negligible changes in overall world temperatures over the last 30 years. But let's just assume for a minute that that the earth really is getting warmer -- and let's assume that the burning fossil fuels is doing the job. Is doubling today's cost of energy -- and hence economic activity -- really worth the benefit of maintaining current temperatures? When people use energy, they do so with a purpose. Take away the fuel and you take away the gasoline needed to get a person to work. Take away natural gas and you prevent a person from heating his house and cooking his dinner.

Maintaining the lifestyle of future generations by wrecking the economy of the present is doomed to fail. Present capital is inherently more valuable than future capital because it can be put to work to make a better future. Suck money out of today's economy and the next generation will undoubtedly be poorer as a result.

U.N. estimates of the impact of global warming rest on physically impossible premises. Developing countries will never maintain their current rates of growth in energy consumption because fossil fuels are a finite resource. The bureaucrats are trying to have it both ways. In the 70s, these jokers tried to ram fuel taxes down our throats because we were imminently running out of fossil fuels. Twenty years later, the prescription has stayed the same, but the story has changed dramatically. Predictions of global warming assume that cheap, plentiful oil will remain available virtually forever, regardless of dramatic increases in consumption. That will never happen.

Sometime in the next several decades, as the billions of residents of Asia attain Western living standards, the price of fossil fuels will begin to slide upward. The market will respond by funneling huge amounts of money into research on alternate energy sources. The new technologies likely will not produce carbon dioxide (e.g. fusion). That's when the U.N.'s greenhouse warming theory begins to crumble. When -- not if -- fossil fuels are replaced, CO2 levels in the atmosphere will stabilize. Global warming will be over.

The real question is what kind of shape the world will be in when this happens. Hopefully, it will be in much better shape than it is in now. Currently, 20 percent of the world's land surface is uninhabited because it's too cold. On the contrary, there is no place on earth where people do not live because it is too hot. A moderate amount of warming -- as predicted by the U.N. -- would likely benefit people as a whole. Of course, not everybody would be a winner. If sea levels were to rise slightly, residents of some low-lying islands may lose their homes. Residents of today's agricultural areas may find themselves living in more arid regions. Wildlife biologists may witness shifts in habitats. But other people would see clear benefits. Millions of square miles would open to settlement due to improved climates. Total arable land would likely increase. The world, in essence, would change. Lifestyles and homelands would change, just as they have countless times before in the history of man. Change is essential to progress. It is essential to life.

While the theory of global warming is far from proven, it does offer an intriguing possibility for enhancement of climates for the good of mankind. Global warming is less a potential disaster than an potential opportunity. Just ask North Dakota's tourist association. Unfortunately, time is running out. Any possible benefit will be halted when alternate energy sources replace fossil fuels sometime in the next century. Until then the prescription is clear: fill 'er up to help the planet. And keep your eyes on the bureaucrats in Kyoto.