What is truly frightening about global warming is not the prospect of temperatures rising, but the zeal with which so many seem ready to beat down human industry in response to a hypothetical idea.
1. No one knows if the earth is growing noticeably warmer. Accurate temperature records cover only a small number of years, and even those data are inconsistent. Global surface temperatures have gone down for the past 2 years (U.S. National Ocean & Atmospheric Administration).
2. No one knows if humans play a noticeable role. Temperature has been in flux since long before industry began. An ice age of 20,000 years ago sent glaciers into my own home state. Changes in sun output, a wobble in the earth's orbit and natural atmospheric change probably contribute to that flux, and all those effects are still ongoing.
3. No one knows if a warmer earth is good or bad. The global warming after the last ice age was good (most would say), and if there is global warming today, that may also be good. A warmer, wetter world may make more land area fertile, for example.
4. No one knows where technology will take us. Let's assume global warming is happening, is bad and is our fault. Even then, crippling industry would be an absurd response.
No institution serves the environment—the human environment—better than commercial industry. Around the globe, products of industry extend and improve human life and expand the reach of the imagination. They also spur technology by providing comfort and capital to the innovators in our midst.
And that technology is reducing greenhouse emissions. We don't know if we should fear these emissions, but we're reducing them anyway. Ranked in terms of emissions per unit of GDP, three technologically advanced nations are the world's cleanest: the United States, Germany and Japan. Technology makes it possible to serve human progress and address even speculative worries at the same time.
At issue is what world we want to leave our children. We could shackle them, limiting their progress because we fear they'll be incompetent to face a possible consequence of their development.
Or we could let them grow. We could leave future generations free to become stronger than we are and achieve more than we can imagine, and all the while trust them to do what humans have always done: fix those problems—real problems—they encounter along the way.