Bush set to launch Son of Kyoto?

Published July 1, 2001

After taking a public relations hit from foreign leaders and American environmentalists for deciding not to seek ratification of the controversial Kyoto global warming treaty, President George W. Bush has been making a quiet but concerted effort to devise a “Kyoto-lite” alternative global warming strategy.

The Bush administration has held several high-level briefings seeking advice on how it should approach climate change at an upcoming gathering of global environmental ministers in Bonn, Germany in mid-July. Persons giving input include numerous scientists and policy experts, many of whom believe America must take immediate and strong steps to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Administration briefing participants regularly include Vice President Dick Cheney, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Todd Whitman, and various White House policy advisors.

Congressional division threatens anti-Kyoto stance

At the same time, new divisions in Congress have eroded Bush’s political base for rejecting strict anti-warming measures. Although the U.S. Senate in 1997 voted 95-0 to reject major provisions of the Kyoto treaty, some recently elected members of Congress are more receptive to even the most severe Kyoto terms.

Senators Lincoln Chafee (R-Rhode Island) and Hillary Clinton (D-New York), two newcomers to the Senate and easily among its most liberal members, were particularly critical of the Bush administration’s greenhouse emissions stance during a May 2 Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Chafee presented an analogy of all the people who die of carbon monoxide poisoning every year when they leave their cars running inside their garages. Clinton blamed global warming for smog and children’s asthma. While the Senators’ grasp of science may be tentative, there is no doubting their support for Kyoto-style restrictions on U.S. energy consumption.

Democrats in Congress have predictably criticized the tone of Bush’s Kyoto rejection, if not necessarily the substance. Stated Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota), “I think we’ve lost face and a certain measure of credibility. The only way we restore it is to come back to the table in good faith.” Added Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York), “Since the President rejected Kyoto, there’s some onus on him to come up with some alternative.”

Meanwhile, House Democrats, along with Republican Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, slipped a provision into the State Department budget bill requiring the Bush administration to “continue to participate in international negotiations with the objective of completing the rules and guidelines for the Kyoto protocol.”

Although likely to be removed in House-Senate conferences before reaching Bush, the provision is an indication of the eroding congressional consensus regarding the over-reach of Kyoto-type anti-warming mandates.

Experts cast doubt on warming theory

As the President mulls his approach to the mid-July Bonn meeting, some climate experts continue to point out the shortcomings of any Kyoto-style treaty.

Patrick Michaels, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and a frequent writer on global warming issues, emphasized in a pair of papers for the Cato Institute that a Kyoto-style treaty could cost America 3.5 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per year. Michaels further pointed out that among all nations, America would be forced to pay the steepest price for Kyoto, even though we are already the most efficient nation on Earth in terms of greenhouse emissions per unit of GDP.

One of the reasons the rest of the world, and western Europe in particular, is so supportive of Kyoto is that it gives them a competitive advantage over the U.S. by placing a disproportionate burden on America for future greenhouse emissions reductions, noted Michaels.

For all the burdens that any Kyoto-style treaty would place on the U.S. economy, even full implementation of Kyoto would have only a minor impact on future warming predictions, Michaels further stated. Even if the questionable global warming computer models are to be believed, the models themselves indicate that 94 percent of projected warming would still occur even if Kyoto were fully implemented. Michaels argues it is foolhardy to put such an onerous burden on an already-troubled U.S. economy for such a minor reduction in projected warming.

“Do the math,” said Michaels. “Kyoto was a bad deal, whether or not you care about global warming. And it’s a good deal that finally there is a world leader with the courage to tell the truth.”

Dire predictions challenged

Moreover, a study by the Greening Earth Society calls into question sensationalism of projected harms triggered by release of the Third Annual Report (TAR) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

According to the TAR, global temperatures could rise by as much as 10.4º Fahrenheit by the end of the century. However, lost in the sensationalism of that figure is the fact that a majority of the models run by the IPCC indicated a much greater probability of a warming of only 3.0º. Even this lower estimate should be taken with a grain of salt, argues the Greening Earth Society, because these same computer models have consistently over-predicted global warming in the past.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) notes recent warming should be viewed in the context of broader climate data. A May 2 CEI report notes the Earth’s temperature dropped 2.0º Fahrenheit between 1000 and 1900. Even the 3.0º warming predicted by the IPCC computer models would simply place us closer to the climate as it existed at the turn of the last millennium, when Viking explorers were so impressed with the beneficial agricultural climate on the eastern coast of Canada that they named the region Vineland.

An April 18 CEI report notes other climate experts have similarly cast doubt on dire global warming predictions. Gerald North of Texas A&M University has stated the “huge range of climate uncertainty among the models” precludes drawing any conclusions on future warming predictions. Peter Stone, a climate modeler for MIT, stated, “The major [climate prediction] uncertainties have not been reduced at all.” University of Washington cloud physicist and professor emeritus Robert Charlson added, “To make it sound like we understand climate is not right.”

The April 27, 2001 issue of Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, included a special report on paleoclimatology. The introductory essay concludes with, “We have only scratched the surface of what we need to understand before we can predict our climate future.” Another essay in the report concludes: “In sum, it now appears that extreme aberrations in global climate can arise through a number of mechanisms. This would explain both the random distribution and frequency of such events over time.”

Politics versus science

Unfortunately, many observers agree that politics, not science, is driving the debate over climate change, and consequently the Kyoto Protocol. According to Dr. S. Fred Singer, president of the Science & Environmental Policy Project, “COP-6 in The Hague was a political exercise, with the science no longer policy-relevant.”

Voices of reason are drowned out by those of alarmists, who use the issue to raise money or attract new members, and by those whose highest priority is not environmental protection but slowing or stopping economic growth for ideological reasons. Whether President Bush understands this is as yet uncertain.

For more information . . .

Pat Michaels’ global warming reports can be found on the Cato Institute’s Web site under Cato Daily Commentary. The first, issued on March 30, can be found at http://www.cato.org/dailys/03-30-01.html. The second, released May 10, can be found at http://www.cato.org/dailys/05-10-01.html. The Greening Earth Society’s May 4 Virtual Climate Alert is available on the Internet at http://www.greeningearthsociety.org/Articles/2001/vca18.htm.