Things Heat Up

T.A. Heppenheimer missed the point in debunking the greenhouse effect ("Learning to Live with the Greenhouse Effect," Jan.) by saying that it isn't too bad. What he should be saying is: Does the increase in carbon dioxide increase the world temperature, or is it negated by the increase in clouds?

Changes in earth temperature occur because of: 1) variations in the sun (the so-called Maunder Minimum and Maximum); 2) periodicity of the earth's orbit (Milankovitch cycle); or 3) wobbling of the earth (changes in the ocean currents).

The Maunder Minimum evidently gave us the "Little Ice Age" of the 1600s. The Milankovitch theory, since confirmed, showed that the variations in orbit coincided with various glacial and interglacial eras. Inherent wobbling has caused changes in the ocean currents that really control temperature.

Evidently some "scientists" frighten bureaucrats with scary, simplified computer models in order to get funds for further so-called research.

Richard Freudenheim
South Orange, NJ

Although the possibility of significant global warming in the near future does call for scientific study to provide a basis for action, rather than a stampede into expensive and quite likely useless government programs, T.A. Heppenheimer's complacency is unjustifiable.

Besides enormous economic losses and attendant political upheavals, warming would bring a whole set of ecological catastrophes. It is simply not true that wildlife, plant and animal, can migrate to more congenial climes. Nature is no longer a continuum, but for the most part survives, barely, in enclaves surrounded by uncrossable human-occupied territories.

Heppenheimer is dead wrong when he says that the earth's free oxygen comes mostly from the breakdown of water by sunlight. Were that the case, this planet would long since be as dry as Venus, where the process evidently did go on. Our upper atmosphere provides a "cold trap," through which very little water vapor can pass. Without plant life, both oxygen and nitrogen would be locked up in mineral compounds.

One need not be an "environmentalist" to be concerned about the biosphere. One need only be interested in the survival of the human species.

Poul Anderson
Orinda, CA

I found T. A. Heppenheimer's "Keep Your Cool" doubly disappointing. First, Heppenheimer assumes that the computer models predicting global warming are "quite believable," or at least more believable than the Club of Rome study and nuclear winter. (What, short of a gypsy's palm, isn't?)

But these models are not the only ones, nor would their predictions pass muster if normal scientific standards were applied. All we know with reasonable certainty is that the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere is increasing, and that carbon dioxide plays a role in a process trapping heat—if not overpowered by other processes.

The main contradiction is the historical record of carbon dioxide content (from ice drillings, organic seabed debris, and other sources), which shows large fluctuations but little correlation with temperature. There are rival theories, many of which take due note of nature's built-in regulatory feedback loops. For example, in Prof. Idso's well-researched theory, the trapped heat leads to more evaporation and more water vapor in the atmosphere, keeping more of the total solar influx out in the first place, and resulting in short-term cooling before the balance is restored.

Nor is it even clear whether there has been any significant warming over the last 100 years. By the data such as they are, there has been none over the United States, and as for global temperatures, they are now being challenged because of their gross unreliability in both measurement methods and paucity of measurement points.

There are other substantial difficulties with the theory (termites and cattle would each produce more warming than fossil fuel burning), but let me go on to the second and deeper disappointment I felt over the article. The current crusades against nuclear power, asbestos, chemicals, food irradiation, power lines, pesticides, etc., have not only a strong anti-technology and anti-industry, but also a strong anti-capitalist, component. (Why do those who eagerly push the global-warming-by-fossil-fuels theory rarely recommend replacing fossil fuels with nuclear power?) There is no need to assume that the coercive, statist, back-to-nature crowd is always wrong (they're not that good); it is enough to take a look at what the opposition says.

According to the Sunday supplements, there isn't any opposition, other than that of the profit-greedy corporations. But there is: Prof. Idso of Arizona State, Dr. Elsaesser of Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Prof. Singer of the University of Virginia, Prof. Lindzen of MIT, to mention only four of many more geophysicists and climatologists who have published significant objections. Their rebuttals do not get a hearing in the popular press because they do not preach doomsday and deindustrialization.

Heppenheimer's article, I will readily concede, did not preach them either; however, it implied that it is only the alleged consequences and touted policies, not the theory itself, that may be mistaken. But when REASON publishes an article on a theory pushed by the collectivist deindustrializers, one somehow assumes that its author has not blindly parroted the conventional assumptions, and has checked out any significant counterarguments. If a REASON feature article accepts such a theory, many laymen may feel, it must be true even if it is abused by the anticapitalist deindustrializers for their own ends.

Alas, in this case that would be the wrong conclusion, and I therefore think the article was a disservice to free minds and free markets.

Petr Beckmann
Boulder, CO

Mr. Heppenheimer replies: My thanks go to Poul Anderson, to begin, for making it clear why I wrote the piece. Trendy talk of "ecological catastrophes" and fashionable concern for "the survival of the human species" (which was doing fine the last time I looked) is just the sort of non-thought I seek to attack. Certainly a climate warming will not be roses all the way; the consequences will be real and serious. But they need not be the stuff of panic.

To Petr Beckmann, see the article by Houghton and Woodwell in Scientific American, April 1989, for curves showing a good correlation between carbon dioxide levels and ancient temperatures. Also, I would love to see the views of Idso, Elsaesser, et al., become the established consensus of the atmospheric-science community. Unfortunately, they aren't. The establishment consensus is based on five major computer models, four in this country and one in Great Britain, which produce the predictions I cite. That is why I take climate warming seriously.

I invite Richard Freudenheim to distinguish between solar and orbital effects, which would give rise to the next ice age, and atmospheric effects that can bring on the global warming. His mention of effects due to clouds refers to a point noted in my article: that disagreement over these effects leads to differences in the predictions of the various atmosphere models, but the consensus within the atmospheric-science community is that cloud effects do not negate or cancel out the warming.

Poul Anderson expresses interest in my assertion that most atmospheric oxygen ultimately comes from sea water. The mechanism for this involves more than mere evaporation of water. Rather, the water vapor rises high in the atmosphere, where solar ultraviolet breaks its molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen, being light, escapes; the heavier oxygen stays behind.

Anderson challenges me here by pointing to a "cold trap": a region of extreme cold in the stratosphere that water vapor cannot readily rise above. This cold trap certainly slows the process of oxygen formation. However, there is a great deal more oxygen in the atmosphere than can be accounted for, chemically, by even the most generous estimates of fossil-fuel reserves. If plant respiration were the dominant source of oxygen, then there would be a chemical balance between the quantities of oxygen and fossil fuels. The great imbalance, in favor of oxygen, argues to me in favor of a nonbiologic origin—dissociation of water vapor—for most of this gas.

Responsive Readers

It was an honor to find my book, Free Persons and the Common Good, reviewed by REASON ("Capitalism and Community," Jan.), and especially by a writer I esteem as much as Paul Heyne. It was comforting to find "persistence, skill, and courage" attributed to me and a generally good review.

I very much appreciated being praised by Prof. Heyne, but I would not want it to be at the expense of the Catholic tradition, of which Prof. Heyne inadvertently spoke much too ill. Does he really think that "Catholics and other Christian thinkers have in fact made no contributions of genuine importance to the development of liberal democracy"? It shows too much contempt to ask "What can we really expect to learn about freedom from that tradition?" And it is historically wrong, wildly wrong, to hold that few "Christian theologians or bishops entertained anything but contempt for the notion of human dignity prior to the democratic revolution of modern times."

Surely, in boasting of the practical achievements of the classical liberals, especially in the invention of new institutions, one does not have to believe that they appeared in history through some immaculate conception, owing nothing whatever to the intellectual inheritance of Judaism and Christianity. In The Roots of Order, Russell Kirk is far more penetrating in his grasp of the presuppositions that our liberal forebears worked with. For that matter, so was Lord Acton, in his History of Liberty.

My own studies suggest to me that, regarding the practical institutions of politics and economics, the classical liberal tradition was wiser; whereas, regarding the basic principles of ordered liberty and the concepts of character, the virtues, conscience, person, friendship, and community, the Catholic tradition is wiser.

Michael Novak
Washington, DC

Paul Heyne broadly suggested that the Catholic Church has historically demonstrated little regard for human dignity and little understanding of natural liberty. As the instrument Jesus Christ founded for the salvation of souls, however, the church is by definition concerned with upholding and promoting the dignity of man. Through its infallible teachings on faith and morals, administration of God's sacraments and general pursuit of justice, the church has diligently pursued the sanctification of men and women for 2,000 years.

Indeed, there have been Christian leaders who have unjustly used their authority. But many more have been those who in thought, word and deed have striven to conform with Christ's Gospel, many times at the price of their own lives. I charitably suggest Mr. Heyne do a thorough reexamination of church history, including the lives of the popes and such saints as Francis of Assisi.

In addition, Heyne said the church's "principal representatives have shown, at least until very recently, almost no understanding of…what Adam Smith called 'the obvious and simple system of natural liberty.'"

The church always has recognized the concept of free will, though it has noted natural rights come with responsibilities, which involve respecting the rights of others. And the church also has made the proper distinction that a choice to sin is an abuse of liberty, not a God-ordained right.

Furthermore, unlike moral relativists, whose misunderstandings of freedom have engendered the bondage of man in sin, the church has understood man's dignity and freedom are most fulfilled when he lives in accordance with the moral absolutes of God's natural law. St. Thomas Aquinas would be good reading concerning man's freedom and its proper use.

As regards matters of economics, the church claims no infallibility, though it does know something about the moral principles on which commerce should be based. As reflected in Pope John Paul II's encyclical, On Social Concerns, the church upholds the right to private initiative but deplores business practices in which the pursuit of profits subverts the dignity of workers and others concerned.

Thomas J. Nash
Cheshire, CT

Paul Heyne (and possibly Michael Novak) conveniently ignores one of the two major branches of Christianity: Protestantism. One of the rallying cries of the Reformation was "Sola Scriptura." This meant that scriptures could say to the church "you are wrong."

Many did take a stand against oppressive church and state forces. Many died, often at the hands of mainline reformers or followers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli…). They were put to death for such treasonous acts as advocating pacifism, questioning church authority, arguing for a total separation of church and state, and for claiming that the individual was competent to study the scriptures and to draw his own conclusions.

Admittedly, an appeal to scriptural authority will hold little weight with libertarians, but to say that "[no] theologians prior to the democratic revolutions…[supported] human dignity" is to willfully ignore a large, important and staunchly pro-individual tradition.

George M. Jones
Columbus, OH

Mr. Heyne responds: First impressions are hard to overcome, and I suspect that some who read my review of Michael Novak's most recent book never recovered from the large-print, bold-type excerpt that confronted them when they opened the page: "How many Christian theologians entertained anything but contempt for the notion of human dignity prior to the democratic revolution of modern times?" That was an editor's doing. My answer, by the way, is not, none. And to Mr. Jones I would say that the noble exceptions contain a hugely disproportionate number of pre-Constantinians and radical Protestants.

It is important to distinguish the value that Christianity has consistently assigned to the individual "soul" from the dignity or worth of the individual as citizen. Mr. Nash is surely correct in asserting that theologians and bishops have "diligently pursued the sanctification of men and women for 2,000 years." I just don't think this logically entails or has even been generally associated with the sort of respect for human dignity that produces hostility to slavery, republican governments, or the U.S. Bill of Rights. And distressingly few bishops and theologians, Catholic or Protestant, right up until the present day, show any understanding at all of the market system, or the patterns of social interaction that evolve spontaneously when property rights are secure and well-defined and individuals are then left free to pursue the projects that interest them.

Michael Novak may be right in suggesting that I have inadvertently spoken much too ill of the Catholic tradition. I did not intend to say that "Catholics and other Christian thinkers have in fact made no contributions of genuine importance to the development of liberal democracy." I don't believe that at all. (Has any single thinker contributed more than Tocqueville?) I meant only to say that his own account was capable of stirring up such a suspicion. The observation was intended in part as a tribute to Michael Novak's respect for the historical evidence while he was making his case for the Catholic tradition.

There was nothing inadvertent, however, in my expressed misgivings about the urge to find Christian foundations for social policy. I agree with Michael Novak that the classical liberal tradition has little to say about character, virtue, and community, and that it needs to be supplemented with ideas and ideals drawn from other traditions. But I would rather draw on Aristotle than on Jesus to make this case in the public forum. I believe that genuine religion does not need to benefit from the support it attracts by drawing applause for praiseworthy evolutions of social thought or policy. And I also believe that theological arguments polarize political discussion. I am sorry if these convictions have caused me to treat unfairly the tradition by which I myself have been nurtured. But criticism properly begins at home.

Bushels of Praise

As a Texas Gulf Coast rice farmer and cattle raiser, I have greatly enjoyed reading Karl Zinsmeister's four articles on the American farmer and our national farm programs (Oct.–Jan.).

His approach appeared detailed and obviously unbiased, and the in-depth manner in which he researched his work was most impressive. While some in agriculture may not agree with his findings and conclusions, I am confident that the vast majority of farmers and ranchers and members of our support industry will find his conclusions right on target. We in agriculture need to respond in a positive way to the common-sense conclusions Zinsmeister found through his research.

The article on the environment (Dec.) should be applauded by all in agriculture, as well as the rest of the American consuming public, as environmental issues continue to take shape and move toward inclusion in the 1990 farm bill. Zinsmeister's down-to-earth and impartial approach could be used to bring together leaders of environmental and farm groups to work jointly and positively on this most important issue.

Loy E. Sneary
Bay City, TX

As a retired farmer (some 45 years of farming) I want to compliment you on the series in your magazine on farming. That was the most accurate series of articles I have ever read in a nonagricultural magazine. Most of your conclusions I agreed with.

Two points you might have considered more: Farm programs are misnamed. It would be more correct to call them consumer programs, because the basic purpose of them is to guarantee a plentiful supply of food and at a price that the consumer can afford. Most of the western countries subsidize their farmers for that reason.

Because of that, it would be difficult for American farmers to compete with the subsidized prices of all the other agricultural countries of the world if there were no subsidized prices here in America. Still, I am not at all sure that American farmers couldn't compete with the world's farmers without subsidies.

Norman C. Buehler
Scott City, KS

Catastrophic Obligations

I read with interest the article about the American Association of Retired Persons' political lobbying ("In Whose Name?" Editorials, Dec.). I believe you err in ascribing their motives to mere liberalism. AARP is more properly viewed as a business in trouble looking for a government bailout.

Despite all of its propaganda, AARP is in reality an insurance marketing agency. It is as such that they were conceived some years ago by Colonial Penn. They would be a "elderly consumer advocate" and would "endorse" a particular mail-order insurance plan. Such plan would, naturally, be underwritten by Colonial Penn. But things went astray, AARP and Colonial Penn separated, and Prudential became the new underwriter.

Just about all mail-order policies are issued without any medical questions or medical history of any kind. A person can have cancer, diabetes, heart problems, and a couple of other things, all at the same time, and still get coverage. To control the expenses of adverse selection, (that's when all of the sick people seek you out to join), a mail-order company will seek to limit claims by limiting the amount that they will pay or by having long waiting periods for preexisting conditions, or both. AARP did neither! AARP's most popular Medicare supplement, M-6, was issued with unlimited coverage and a preexisting conditions period of only three months. They were counting on the extremely low price of only $25.95 per month to attract enough healthy people to make up for the sick ones that would predictably join.

It didn't. Instead of raising the rates to the going rate for that type of coverage (about $55 per month), they sought government relief. This was understandable. A steep rate increase serves only to drive away healthy people. The sick ones stay because they have to. Other companies have tried guaranteed high rates. The result is that agents like myself, whose companies ask some health questions, seriously under-cut their prices. So the effect of the Catastrophic Care Act was not to help the seniors but to limit AARP's losses. Even at that, AARP still had to raise its rates for M-6 to $43.50. Now, faced with the prospect of a repeal of the act, AARP has mailed policyholders a letter, included with the new payment coupon books, preparing them for the new rate increase and trying to place the blame on Congress.

Prudential has a clause in its policy with AARP that allows it to cancel AARP "en masse." They will be tempted to do that. I hope they don't, as that will hurt the people who joined and whose health has since deteriorated to the point that they are uninsurable. They will have been victims of the "something for nothing" fantasy.

Wayne D. Cowey
Gulfport, MI