U.S. Fighting off Kyoto Restrictions

Published April 1, 2005

The Kyoto Protocol went into effect on February 16, 2005 after seven long years of negotiations. As a victory for European Union diplomacy, 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 Vladimir Putin.

Impact on Climate Negligible

Even supporters of the protocol concede that if it is carried out without cheating, its goal of cutting emissions of greenhouse gases to 5 percent below the 1990 level by 2012 would reduce the calculated temperature rise in 2050 by a virtually undetectable 0.02 degrees Celsius. That’s two one-hundredths of a degree Celsius.

No wonder Friends of the Earth calls the Kyoto Protocol “woefully inadequate.” Even if the United States and Australia were to ratify and implement the measure, the temperature decrease would be an insignificant 0.05 degrees Celsius.

Enormously Costly Cuts

The cost to participating nations is huge and will be reflected in higher energy prices, which ultimately will result in job losses and other negative effects on their economies. Additional costs will come in the form of emissions monitoring and inspection.

Cheating on a large scale is permitted, however. It is called “emissions trading” or, more properly, buying unused emission rights.

Britain, France, and Germany may be on target now (though only because the base year was chosen as 1990), but they won’t be by 2012. They will have to buy permits from Russia, which has plenty of credits for sale. Russia, after all, successfully demonstrated how to cut emissions–just collapse the economy.

Japan, Italy, Spain, and most of Europe are already not meeting their emission targets. There is no chance they will be in compliance by 2012.

The negative economic effects of the Kyoto Protocol will be made worse by international competition from rapidly growing countries like China and India, which are not about to cut back on energy use.

Unscientific Alarmism

To all these concerns about the Kyoto Protocol, 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 should be.

The twentieth 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.

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 based on theoretical models that cannot even reproduce the recent climate, much less accurately predict future climate.

Multi-Front Domestic Battle

Understandably, our European friends are worried about losing their industries, as rising energy costs make them less competitive. Their efforts to pressure U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol thus come as no surprise. But the most serious threats to the current U.S. position are domestic.

Congress has its well-known purveyors of global warming fears, especially in the Senate. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) co-chaired the International Task Force on Climate Change, which has predicted unimaginable catastrophes unless the United States adopts the Kyoto Protocol. Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) are preparing to trot out the latest iteration of their Climate Stewardship bill, which would impose crippling restrictions on the U.S. economy.

Environmental organizations are acting predictably, garnering megabucks from gullible foundations and support from the “amen-chorus” of the New York Times, Washington Post, and even National Geographic and Scientific American. Particularly troublesome is the orientation of the editors of leading scientific journals such as Science and Nature, which 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 alarmists predict. Temperature data suggest a warming of perhaps 0.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Credible experts have assured us that higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide coupled with modest temperature increases will actually be beneficial, raising average incomes and standards of living.

Most worrisome is the behavior of some states and municipalities. Eight state attorneys general have filed suit against major utilities for emitting carbon dioxide while supplying the electric power people need. The California Air Resources Board considers carbon dioxide (CO2) a pollutant and is trying to force Detroit to build cars people do not want to buy.

Enron Factor

Finally, many U.S. industries are pushing for caps on CO2 emissions. Some are driven by the promise of profits from trading of emission rights, of which Enron was a leading proponent. Others are just after profits; they see emission caps as a way to eliminate competitors. Even some electric utilities support emission restraints, secure in the knowledge they can pass increased costs to ratepayers or satisfy shareholders by showing green credentials.

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 has 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-selling books such as Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, President George W. Bush will have the support of thousands of scientists and millions of ordinary citizens. They are fed up with global warming hype, and they 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 ([email protected]) is professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) in Arlington, Virginia. He has held several federal positions, including director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service. This article first appeared on the SEPP Web site (http://www.sepp.org).