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Kyoto comes to town
Scripps Howard News Service


June 20, 2005

The summer's hottest horror flick might be called, "Kyoto 8: The Bad Idea That Wouldn't Die." It's opening in the U.S. Senate this week, and it's coming to the big conference of global leaders in Gleneagles, Scotland, next month.

The Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997, sought to cool the climate by limiting emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide (the stuff that we exhale and that trees need to grow). The only way to limit emissions in today's world is to cut back on energy use. To do that, governments either have to tax energy heavily or simply command reductions.

Either way, the economy will suffer enormously - in the United States alone, the slowdown would slice two to three percentage points off growth, according to the Clinton Administration's research. That's a recession, or close to it, every year. Implementing Kyoto would plunge the world into stagnation, mainly hurting the developing nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America, which depend on United States and European demand for their goods.

Kyoto was a response to fears that humans, by burning fossil fuels, were releasing chemicals that were warming the earth. The surface temperature of the globe has indeed been increasing - by about one degree F over the past century. But no one yet knows whether the fault is human intervention or simply the natural cycle of warming and cooling that has affected the earth for millions of years.

Recent research has shown there were periods long ago - before the advent of SUVs - when the globe was hotter than it is now. While Kyoto backers are fond of pointing to melting glaciers as evidence of the evil effects of human emissions, the German magazine Der Spiegel quoted a scientist named Ulrich Joerin as saying that the Tschierva Glacier in Engadine, Switzerland, was smaller during the Roman Empire than it is today and that "a few thousand years ago, there were no glaciers here at all."

Is the current surface warming an anomalous or cyclical blip? Or is it the consequence of what humans do? More research is needed. Meanwhile, the market economy itself is forcing beneficial changes. Developed countries have been adopting methods that are cleaner and more efficient. Through better energy technology, the United States has been getting more economic output out of every unit of carbon emitted.

The Kyoto Protocol itself was so clearly a monster that the U.S. Senate rejected it, 95-0, in a resolution eight years ago. Meanwhile, the Europeans, who had written the treaty to give themselves an economic advantage over the United States, managed to bribe the Russians into agreement, and Kyoto was officially ratified last November. Still, Europe is not meeting its reduction targets - a fact that hasn't stopped Tony Blair, the British prime minister, from trying to shame the United States by placing climate change at the top of the agenda for the Group of 8 summit meeting he is chairing in Scotland.

The irony is that Blair's other top goal at the G-8 is aid to Africa. What Africa really needs is economic growth - not handouts or debt forgiveness. And economic growth requires inexpensive and available energy, which Blair's global-warming policy would undermine.

The U.S. Senate is now considering two disastrous mini-Kyoto bills - one proposed by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., which would demand emissions be cut to 2000 levels by 2010, and another by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., which would impose $60 billion in new taxes and would devastate the American coal industry. A third bill, introduced by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., is far more rational. It encourages voluntary emissions cuts at home (where we're making more progress than European nations) and the transfer of clean-energy technology abroad.

In preparation for the Senate votes and the G-8 conference, radical environmentalists have been trying to smear scientists and other Kyoto skeptics. No wonder. Over the past few years, emotional claims of global-warming champions - like the famous "hockey stick" chart of rising temperatures - are being coolly repudiated. Sensible researchers are looking to activity on the sun itself as the instigator of recent warming on earth.

Average temperatures in New York City this year are four-tenths of a degree below normal, but that isn't discouraging radicals from pumping up the threats in order to boost the box office for their climate-change horror show this summer. Just remember, though. It's not for real. It's only a movie.


James K. Glassman is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
and host of the Web site

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