Global-Warming Minefield: President Bush’s New Climate Change Initiative

Global-Warming Minefield: President Bush’s New Climate Change Initiative

Georgia Op-Ed in National Review Online
February 14, 2002

President Bush's new climate-change initiative is a baffling reversal of previous statements made when he rejected the Kyoto Protocol. That treaty would have required the U.S. to reduce its carbon-dioxide emissions to seven percent below 1990 levels, a tremendous reduction that would have required significant energy rationing.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

His reasoning at the time was that the scientific evidence was insufficient to justify embarking on a course of action that would cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars a year, not to mention the tremendous economic burdens that would have fallen on developing countries.

If anything, the scientific basis for global warming has weakened since that decision, made last summer. Climate models, which serve as the basis for long-term climate predictions, have clearly failed when tested against observed climate data. For instance, the models cannot simulate the current climate, let alone predict the climate 50 or 100 years into the future.

Moreover, climate models predict that the troposphere — the atmospheric layer from 5,000 to 30,000 feet above the Earth's surface — will warm first and at a faster rate than the surface layer below 5,000 feet. Highly accurate temperature measurements of the troposphere taken from satellites show virtually no warming since 1979.

Just this month, Nature magazine published a study that found that Antarctica has been cooling since 1966, directly contradicting model results that suggest that warming will be more pronounced in the Earth's polar regions. And Science just published a study finding that the Antarctic ice sheet is expanding rather than shrinking, contrary to what global-warming enthusiasts would have us believe.

Given the weakening scientific basis for global warming, the only possible explanation for Bush's decision is that he is trying to boost his approval ratings among environmentalists. So far the plan is a political disaster. Bush has ignored his own natural constituency, not to mention traditionally Democratic coal-mining states that delivered him the presidency because of this very issue. And if he thought that environmentalists were suddenly going to fall in love with him, he's in for a rude awakening.

The Sierra Club's executive director, Carl Pope, said, "Unfortunately, the Bush administration is using Valentine's Day to give a sweetheart deal to the corporate polluters that funded his campaign." Jennifer Morgan, director of the World Wildlife Fund's Climate Change Campaign, accuses the president of delivering "a Valentine's Day present for the coal and oil industry." Environmental activists are singing the same tired song they did before the announcement.

Environmentalists are jumping on the fact that the plan doesn't really require any reduction in greenhouse gases. The plan calls for an 18 percent reduction in carbon intensity (carbon emission per unit of output) over the next ten years. A look at past changes in carbon intensity, however, reveals that businesses will not be required to do anything that they aren't already doing. Carbon intensity in the U.S., for instance, fell by 15 percent in the 1990s and by nearly 50 percent since 1970.

This is perfectly natural. Businesses that are trying to maximize profits are continually finding ways to increase efficiency, thereby lowering costs. The result is a natural downward trend in carbon intensity. The only place that carbon intensity didn't fall was in former Communist countries where there was no profit incentive and thus no motivation to reduce costs. The corollary to this reduction in carbon intensity, however, is a rise in total carbon-dioxide emissions.

As energy efficiency increases, the cost of using energy falls and businesses expand production and increase energy use. Often this more than offsets the emissions reductions from greater efficiency. Indeed, this is exactly what has happened. Lowered carbon intensity has been accompanied by higher carbon emissions.

Under President Bush's plan, companies that voluntarily agree to reduce carbon intensity will receive credits from the government. These credits are potentially worth billions of dollars, but are virtually worthless unless a mandatory cap on greenhouse-gas emissions is forthcoming. In effect, Bush's plan would create a business constituency favoring a mandatory cap, putting the U.S. right back where it was when Al Gore signed the Kyoto Protocol. Moreover, any company that doesn't "voluntarily" participate will be hurt when mandatory caps are put into place, meaning that companies that are able will have little choice but to join the fray.

Bush's plan may also be unfair to small businesses, which may not be able to afford to participate in the voluntary climate plan, preventing them from receiving credits. When the mandatory cap is put into place they will be forced either to reduce emissions or to buy credits from large companies that were able to take advantage of the program.

That explains why companies like Enron and the big-business members of the Pew Center on Climate Change's Business Leadership Council lobbied both the Clinton and Bush administrations for a voluntary-emission credit program. Unfortunately, Bush delivered where the Clinton administration failed to do so.

It's unfortunate that President Bush has decided to put into place a regulatory framework to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, giving new life to a dead issue. Even Europe, which has been most eager to cut greenhouse gases, is going in the opposite direction.

Great Britain just announced that its emissions of carbon dioxide increased by three percent last year and Germany announced that its emissions rose by 1.5 percent. The European Union is relying heavily on these two countries to assure that it meets its Kyoto target. Several economic studies conducted by government, academic, and private institutions have determined that none of the EU countries is likely to meet its Kyoto target.

Denmark just announced that it will no longer subsidize the installation of new wind turbines, citing soaring energy costs and reduced competitiveness. In the latest international global-warming negotiations, Russia and Japan secured so many concessions that the Kyoto protocol is no longer worth the paper it is printed on.

Economic realities around the world and Bush's bold rejection of Kyoto had effectively killed a treaty that had no business being negotiated in the first place. Inexplicably, Bush has now given new life to an issue that should just fade away once and for all, effectively snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.