O'Beirne: Professor, global warming is being blamed for causing droughts out West and floods in Europe. That confuses me. Which is it, droughts or floods?
Patrick Michaels, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute: Confuses me too. Our greener friends blame every weather event that they can find on global warming. But when you look at the actual numbers, their claims don't hold up.
O'Beirne: Has there been any climate change in the last century?
Michaels: Sure. The temperature of the planet's about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer than it was 100 years ago. In the last 50 years, there have been changes that look like greenhouse effect changes, meaning the coldest air of the winter has warmed up, Siberia's warmed up from minus 40 to minus 38 in January. Don't hear people complaining about that.
You don't see much change in the summer temperatures. Growing seasons have lengthened, crop yields have quintupled, lifespan's doubled.
O'Beirne: The federal government spends well over $2 billion a year on climate change research. What are we getting for this money?
Michaels: Not much. Our computer models are really not much better than they were 10 years ago before we started to spend all this money. There's another way to look at the issue, which doesn't cost very much money at all, which is to look at how much the planet has warmed as the greenhouse effect has changed.
And when you do that calculation, you realize that it's going to warm up at about -- for about 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next 100 years, which isn't very much. We're going to prosper, we're going to adapt, we're going to live with it...
O'Beirne: Private industry funds some of your research. Are they getting what they pay for?
Michaels: Well, you know, most of my funding, the vast majority, comes from taxpayer-supported entities. I would make the argument that if funding colors research, I should be certainly biased more towards the taxpayers, of which I am one, than towards industry. But the fact of the matter is, numbers are objective.
And what you look at the global warming numbers, you cannot come to any conclusion other than the fact that we pretty much know how much it's going to warm in the next 100 years. It's not going to be that much. And you can't stop it.
O'Beirne: Al Gore saw the disagreement over the extent of global warming as a struggle between good and evil. Why is research on climate change so emotional and political?
Michaels: It's -- it is very emotional. But if you think about it, it's like everything here in Washington, D.C. It revolves around money and power. You cannot generate funding for a large issue unless you threaten people children. Look at the competing apocalypses, AIDS, cancer, heart disease, global warming. Their budgets are all about the same. Now, can you imagine going in front of Congress and saying, Well, this is really an overblown problem, please save your money?
O'Beirne: Why does the public, though, professor, seem to be so readily accept doomsday scenarios about the state of the environment?
Michaels: We certainly have run through a lot of apocalypses in my professional lifetime. Let's see, there was population explosion, then we were going to run out of resources from the limits to growth, then there was global cooling and the next ice age, then acid rain was going to cause a, quote, "ecological silent spring" and global warming.
You think people would get tired of this? The answer is, I think they are.
O'Beirne: Last month you were among the witnesses at a House oversight hearing on global warming. What was Congress concerned about?
Michaels: Congress was concerned that a new report that is being used to generate an awful lot of policy, not only in Washington but in the states, was based upon two computer models that did worse than a table of random numbers when applied to U.S. temperatures.
I think it's a tremendous scandal. I think it's the biggest scandal in the history of the environmental sciences that we're using models like this and proceeding with policy.
O'Beirne: Professor, if the Kyoto Treaty were fully implemented, there would be economic costs for sure, but wouldn't it help the environment?
Michaels: No. The Kyoto Treaty would cost a fortune, between 1 and 3 percent of GDP per year. But the amount of warming that it would save would be 0.07 degree Celsius in the next 50 years. That was the argument that killed Kyoto in front of the Bush administration, that it costs a fortune, and it does nothing.