It's a Gas

It's a Gas

Lewis Letter to the Editor in The Weekly Standard
November 02, 2003

William Pedersen (“Inside the Bush Greenhouse,” Oct. 27) claims that the Bush administration “could convert global warming policy from a drain on its political strength and credibility into an asset” by endorsing “modest mandatory measures” to control greenhouse emissions. He also contends that President Bush could adopt “moderate greenhouse limits” without compromising either his “conservative principles” or his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


Pedersen might as well say it is possible to be a little bit pregnant. Bush could not propose to regulate carbon dioxide — the inescapable byproduct of the carbon-based fuels that supply 86 percent of all the energy Americans use — without legitimizing the Kyoto agenda of climate alarmism and energy rationing.


Pedersen ascribes Bush’s global warming travails to “the self-contradiction of a policy that admits the need for action yet rejects even modest mandatory measures.” But the alleged contradiction disappears once it is understood that there is no regulatory solution to the potential problem of global warming. According to pro-Kyoto scientists, full implementation of the treaty by all industrial nations would only avert 7/100ths of a degree Celsius of global warming by 2050! Real “action” on climate change, should it be needed, will depend on technological breakthroughs in energy production and/or carbon capture. Bush’s emphasis on technological research and development is correct. 


Pedersen opposes <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Kyoto not only because it costs too much, but also because “We do not know enough at present to establish a planetary limit.” He proposes “reductions not in carbon emissions directly, but in the ‘carbon intensity’ of an economy — the ratio of carbon emissions to gross national product.”


But if we do not know enough to establish a “planetary limit” on emissions, we do not know enough to establish carbon intensity targets either. Absent real knowledge of the level at which carbon dioxide concentrations must be stabilized, there is no scientific basis for setting either emission limits or intensity targets.


Mandating carbon intensity reductions would embolden rather than appease pro-Kyoto alarmists, who would see the scheme for what it is — the crossing of a legal and policy Rubicon. From then on, debate would not be over whether to suppress carbon-based energy, but over how much to suppress it.


Many in the first Bush administration believed their acid rain program would persuade environmentalists to vote Republican. It never happened. Embracing the Kyoto agenda would not improve George W. Bush’s reelection prospects, either. On the contrary, energy taxes or their regulatory equivalent are anti-growth — and a poorly performing economy in 2004 would be Bush’s biggest political liability.


Marlo Lewis

Senior Fellow

Competitive Enterprise Institute