Wednesday, February 09, 2005

If They Only Knew What King Canute Knew

If anyone has any doubt that the real motivating force behind the Kyoto treaty is political economy and not science, all you have to do is read the latest testy missive from David Ignatius in the Washington Post: A Climate of Disdain

All 25 nations of the European Union have ratified the Kyoto accord,

Please, David stop! The moral superiority of the Europeans is killing me!

The fact that a few countries in Europe can strong arm smaller countries (who don't produce a lot of CO2 to begin with and for whom Kyoto will have no negative costs involved) into ratifying Kyoto doesn't speak to its being a good thing. If it was so obviously a good thing why did EU members have to threaten countries with sanctions if they didn't comply?

and they have created an innovative system for trading rights to emit the carbon dioxide "greenhouse gases" that are thought to be responsible for global warming. High-emissions Britain could purchase allocations from low-emissions Norway, for example. This "carbon trading" system will make it easier for the E.U. as a whole to meet the Kyoto target of reducing emissions from 2008 onward to 8 percent below 1990 levels.

Isn't bureaucracy wonderful? While they're at it let them know I want to trade Baltic Avenue for Park Place. See, the point is that without knowing if such activities can positively impact global warming, which we don't and the best evidence says it won't, all of it is meaningless. All the bureaucratic rules can do is make of it a game. Granted, a game with scientific sounding components. Newspapers in Europe can print wonderful sounding headlines about "Sweden Buys 2007 CO2 Allotment From Luxembourg For Several Cases Of Absolut!" However, it remains a game, and an expensive one at that.

Kyoto is probably the best example of the differing trajectories of the Bush administration and most of its allies and trading partners. The administration decided to walk away from the treaty during its first months in office, arguing that the Kyoto requirement that the United States cut greenhouse emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels would cost 5 million jobs and billions of dollars.

An interesting point is that I've never seen a single person argue that these projected job loss and monetary costs are erroneous. The consensus seems to be that, yes, those are indeed the costs involved. So what they are arguing for is a structural change to our economy that will effectively double our base unemployment rate. Yeah, that's politically sustainable.

Some of the administration's criticisms were valid -- especially its argument that the treaty was flawed because it didn't include limits for developing nations such as China. But by disdaining Kyoto, the administration opted out of a process that might have produced a better agreement. Perhaps the administration assumed that Kyoto would wither and die without U.S. support; if so, it was wrong.

No. The assumption is that after a few years of suffering the dire economic consequences from Kyoto many of the signees of the treaty will be forced to back off from it. Particularly since the economic impacts will be felt far before any effect takes place in the world's climate, if any attributable effect is felt at all.

Another factor about Kyoto that is never mentioned is, how will you know it's working? The answer is you won't. No one is claiming that Kyoto will make world temperatures stabilize or decline. You will just have to chalk it up to faith that any increases in temperature in the future are smaller than they would have been otherwise. Kyoto is fundamentally unverifiable and unfalsifiable.

The Bush administration's official position is that the climate change issue is complicated and needs more study. Yet many of the administration's own scientists seem convinced that the problem is real and growing. The Environmental Protection Agency endorses the finding by the National Academy of Sciences that the Earth's surface temperature has risen about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past century.

No. What climatologists know is that global warming is not unprecedented. Even during recorded human history there have been times when the world climate was warmer then it is today. The "problem" that Kyoto assumes, namely that global warming is caused directly by human activity, has not been established scientifically. That temps have been rising is a fact, acknowledged by "the administration's own scientists," and that this fact will have consequences, both good and bad, is not disputed. It's called WEATHER. Human beings have been dealing with variations in climate from the dawn of time. There is no "normal" climate. It always changes. It warms at times, it cools at other times. The idea that A) this particular warming is caused by human beings, and B) we can reverse this warming by doing different (leftist) things, is the scientific equivalent of doing an indian rain dance; the drought is real, that any human activity made it rain is fantasy.

Kyoto isn't the last word on climate change. It's a flawed treaty, and it needs amendment. But it shows that the political and economic dimensions of globalization are becoming intertwined. Kyoto has more than 140 nations on board; that's a critical mass that will require the world's major companies to adapt to a global market in emissions trading. America can drag its feet on climate change, but it turns out that it can't stop the rest of the world from taking action.

If the rest of the world wants to commit economic suicide they are welcome to it. What you will see is that the countries who refuse to go along with Kyoto, like the U.S., China and India, will still have thriving economies while the Kyoto countries make their headlong rush for the 19th century.

Of course that won't happen. Countries will start pealing off of Kyoto one by one as the economic realities pile up one by one.

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