Kyoto Protocol Danger to the White House

by Prof. S. Fred Singer

The Kyoto Protocol went into effect on Feb 16, 2005, after seven long years of negotiations. It may be a victory for diplomacy, and it will certainly please international bureaucrats, but it is no cause for celebration. It is ineffective, yet very costly. And it is “scientifically flawed.” -- to quote Russian president Putin. But aside from that …

Let's see now. Everyone agrees that even if Kyoto is carried out without cheating – cutting emissions of greenhouse gases to 5 percent below the 1990 level -- it may reduce the calculated temperature rise in 2050 by a virtually undetectable 0.02º C. That's two-one hundredth deg C! No wonder that Friends of the Earth calls it “woefully inadequate.” Even if the US and Australia were to ratify Kyoto, the temperature decrease would be an insignificant 0.05 deg C.

The cost to participating nations is huge – reflected in higher energy prices. To this one must add the costs of emissions monitoring and inspection; we are not even talking about enforcement or of sanctions against cheaters. Cheating on a large scale is permitted, however. It is called “emission trading” -- or, more properly, buying unused emission rights. Britain, France and Germany may be on target now (but only because the base year was chosen as 1990); they won't be by 2012, the final year of Kyoto. They will have to buy permits from Russia, which has lots of “hot air” for sale after demonstrating how to cut emissions – just collapse the economy. Japan, Italy, Spain and most of Europe are already way beyond their targets; there is no chance that they will be in compliance by 2012.

It will soon become apparent that
the cost is real and the return nil – something the US Senate figured out in 1997 when it voted unanimously against any kind of Kyoto-like treaty. The burden – as always -- will fall on the lowest-income groups who will be faced with the choice of ”heating or eating.” The strain on the social fabric in Europe and Japan will be severe. The economic and job losses are made worse by international competition from rapidly growing countries like China and India, which are not about to cut back on energy use.

To all these add the lack of science. The claimed consensus on substantial future warming simply does not exist. Governments may proclaim it – but the public is increasingly dubious. And well they might be. The 20th century has turned out not to be “unusual“ - as was claimed. The most accurate measurement of atmospheric temperatures from weather satellites shows little if any current warming.

And the rest is mostly hype. Hurricanes are not increasing; sea levels are rising at their usual rate (as they have for thousands of years). Antarctic ice is thickening, and at least half of the world's glaciers are not shrinking. All the hue and cry is coming from theoretical models that cannot even reproduce recent climate.

Nevertheless, the level of hysteria is rising and pressures are growing on the White House to endorse Kyoto – in the vain hope that the Senate will ratify. Understandably, our European friends are worried about losing their industries as rising energy costs make them less competitive. There is even rumbling about invoking trade sanctions against the US unless we follow their path to higher costs. But the most serious threats to the White House are domestic.

Congress has its well-known supporters of global warming fears, especially in the Senate. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) co-chaired something called the International Task Force on Climate Change, which has predicted unimaginable catastrophes unless the US adopts Kyoto. And McCain and Lieberman are ready to trot out their Climate Stewardship bill that would impose crippling restrictions on the US economy.

Environmental organizations are doing their predictable routine and garnering megabucks from gullible foundations, with the “amen-chorus” of the New York Times, Washington Post, and even the National Geographic and Scientific American. Particularly troublesome is the orientation of the editors of leading scientific journals like Science and Nature, and even of the semi-popular Chemical & Engineering News. They seem to be impervious to the growing body of scientific evidence that defines Global Warming as a non-problem.

While the greenhouse effect is certainly real, its magnitude is nowhere near what simple theory predicts. The actual observations suggest a warming of perhaps 0.5º C by the end of this century. And credible economists assure us that higher levels of carbon dioxide coupled with modest temperature increases are actually beneficial and will raise average incomes and standards of living.

Most worrisome is the behavior of states and municipalities. Eight state attorneys-general have filed suit against major utilities for emitting carbon dioxide while supplying the electric power that people need. The California Air Resources Board considers CO
2 a pollutant and is trying to force Detroit to build cars that people do not want. The State of Connecticut … and so on. All of these initiatives may well be unconstitutional since they preempt the federal government.

Finally, we have many industries pushing for caps on CO2 emissions. Some are driven by the promise of profits from trading – remember ENRON? Others are just after profits by eliminating competitors. Even some electric utilities support emission restraints, secure in the knowledge that they can pass increased costs to ratepayers – or satisfy shareholders by showing Green credentials. Many CEOs prefer a carefree existence to having to hassle with pension funds, church groups, and environmental activists.

What's to be done to overcome this hysteria before it gets much worse? When reason and logic fail to convince, the initiative has to come from the top. The White House needs to enter the battle. The President himself must use the bully pulpit and present the facts to the public. His job is made easier by having the facts on his side, plus the ability to generate publicity. In addition to editorials in the Wall Street Journal and best sellers such as Michael Crichton's “State of Fear,” he will have the support of thousands of scientists and millions of ordinary citizens. They are fed up with global warming hype and recognize the threat to our economic well being from wasting limited resources in fighting non-problems instead of concentrating on real ones. Future generations will thank him for saving us from this madness.

S. Fred Singer is professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project in Arlington, VA. He has held several federal positions, including as director of the US Weather Satellite Service.


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