The Snowe-Rockefeller Road to Kyoto

The Snowe-Rockefeller Road to Kyoto

Lewis Op-Ed in The American Spectator
November 02, 2006

In a recent letter to ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson, Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and John Rockefeller (D-WV) urge Tillerson to end his company's support of "climate change denial front groups." The only group they identify by name is the one for which I work—the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). I guess the Senators haven't been keeping up with the news, because ExxonMobil stopped funding CEI months ago. The Senators get several other easily checked facts wrong as well. They fault ExxonMobil for not "investing in the development of technologies that might see us through this [global warming] crisis." Maybe they didn't get the memo, but back in 2002, ExxonMobil pledged "to invest $100 million in a groundbreaking Stanford University project dedicated to researching new options for commercially viable, technological systems for energy supply and use which have the capability to substantially reduce greenhouse emissions."More importantly, CEI is not a global warming "denier"—a highly pejorative term, meant to imply a resemblance to "Holocaust deniers." CEI does not deny that global warming is happening, nor that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to the warming. Rather, we question climate alarmism—the claim, in Vice President Al Gore's words, that global warming is a "planetary emergency." For example, in An Inconvenient Truth, Gore warns that half of the Greenland Ice Sheet could melt or "slip into the sea," raising sea levels by 10 feet. He doesn't say how long this might take, but gives the impression it could happen within our lifetimes, or those of our children. The annual net loss of ice in Greenland is about 92 cubic kilometers per year. That may sound like a lot—but it translates into less than one inch of sea level rise in a century. Apocalypse Not!We also challenge the economic rationality and moral bona fides of the Kyoto Protocol and other fossil-energy-suppression schemes. Conservatively estimated, implementing Kyoto would cost the United States $100 billion a year—yet it would have no discernible effect on global temperatures, averting a hypothetical and undetectable 0.07 degrees C. of global warming by 2050. All cost, no benefit.The standard rejoinder by Kyoto supporters is that the treaty is just a first step in a series of agreements, each more stringent and inclusive than its predecessor. What this really means is that Kyoto cannot "stabilize" atmospheric carbon dioxide levels without curbing fossil-fuel energy use not only in North America, Europe, and Japan, but also in high-growth developing countries like China and India. However, those countries must dramatically increase their use of fossil energy if they are ever to grow out of poverty. Kyoto cannot "work" unless large portions of humanity remain trapped in poverty, backwardness, and misery.Climate RoyalistsThe Snowe-Rockefeller letter is a follow-up to a letter sent to ExxonMobil's British subsidiary by the Royal Society of London urging the company to stop funding organizations that "misinform the public" about climate change. Since the Royal Society gets most of its funding from the British Government, Snowe and Rockefeller should at least have wondered what raison d'etat the Royal Society might be serving.Kyoto would impose disproportionately higher burdens on the U.S. economy than on the British economy. That is because Kyoto's emission reduction targets are measured against a 1990 baseline, and in the 1990s, the UK power sector, for economic rather than environmental reasons, switched from high-carbon coal to lower-carbon natural gas, reducing Britain's emissions. U.S. ratification of Kyoto would give British firms a competitive advantage vis-a-vis their American counterparts. Unsurprisingly, lobbying U.S. policymakers to ratify Kyoto or adopt similar constraints is a staple of British foreign policy. Snowe and Rockefeller should have written a letter to the Royal Society reminding that body that (a) the USA is no longer a British colony, and (b) the U.S. Senate does not appreciate foreign meddling in our internal affairs. Instead, the Senators put the weight of their offices behind a foreign entity's criticism of a U.S. firm's participation in a debate on U.S. public policy.It gets even stranger. Snowe and Rockefeller are particularly upset that ExxonMobil has funded groups that publish views about climate science on "non-peer-reviewed websites such as Tech Central Station." Snowe and Rockefeller have also published viewpoints on climate change on their own websites. Are their websites "peer reviewed"? U.S. citizens have a right to discuss global warming and climate policy even if they are not scientists. Snowe and Rockefeller imply that speech about global warming and climate policy is illegitimate unless conducted within the pages of scientific journals such as Science or Nature, or unless it uncritically parrots the editorial policies of such journals. This kind of elitism—the notion that the lay public should just defer to its betters and never question the pronouncements of scientific experts—may have its aficionados in the Royal Society, but it has no place except parody in American politics.Presumably, Snowe and Rockefeller have no problem with EPA and other government agencies providing untold millions of dollars annually to environmental activist groups who campaign for Kyoto and other energy-suppression schemes. However, groups with a free-market orientation like CEI typically do not seek or accept government support as a matter of principle. If we don't raise money from the private sector, we cease to operate—which would suit the government-funded alarmist crowd just fine. Snowe and Rockefeller's attack on ExxonMobil's funding of CEI is simply an attempt to drive the market out of the marketplace of ideas.Scapegoat SkepticsWhy are Snowe, Rockefeller, the Royal Society, and a host of other alarmists up in arms over ExxonMobil's support for groups challenging the alarmist spin on climate science?It may have something to do with the need for scapegoats. Snowe and Rockefeller's chief complaint is that ExxonMobil's funding of groups like CEI has "made it increasingly difficult for the United States to demonstrate the moral clarity it needs across all facets of its diplomacy." This is a veiled swipe at President Bush for his decision to withdraw the United States from participation in the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that Snowe and Rockefeller evidently admire as a step towards a "truly global solution to what is undeniably a global problem."With a few exceptions like Great Britain, European countries are having trouble meeting their Kyoto targets. For example, Kyoto aims to reduce European Union (EU) emissions by 8% below 1990 levels during 2008-2012. However, even with European gasoline prices exceeding $6.00 a gallon, EU transport sector emissions are 24% above 1990 levels. Some European nations may be able, with the help of accounting gimmickry, to barely comply with the first phase (2008-2012) Kyoto targets. But there is no way Europe will be able to meet more stringent targets in the next phase unless European firms can find a vast new supply of low-cost emission reduction credits. Such a supply will materialize only if key developing countries like China and India agree to participate. However, there is no hope of China and India ever participating unless, in Snowe and Rockefeller's words, "the United States officially reengage[s] and demonstrate[s] leadership on the issue of climate change"—i.e., unless the United States joins the Kyoto club.Why doesn't the United States "reengage"? In Snowe and Rockefeller's opinion, it's because ExxonMobil, through its "front groups," has exerted "relentless pressure on the media." This has "confused the public and given cover to a few senior elected and appointed government officials whose positions and opinions enable them to damage U.S. credibility abroad." In other words, the tail wags the dog. The chain of causality runs as follows. ExxonMobil funded CEI. CEI puts pressure on the media. Due to that pressure, the Bush administration keeps America out of Kyoto. Because America does not join, neither do China and India. Without China and India, Kyoto collapses. Therefore, CEI is responsible for killing Kyoto. Quick somebody put that in our next fund-raising letter!In effect, Snowe and Rockefeller suggest that when CEI says "jump," the White House says "How high?" They also appear to believe that China's leaders are just waiting for Bush to give the word and then they'll agree to stop building coal-fired power plants. This is all so ridiculous it's funny. Unfortunately, the hunt for scapegoats is never funny. As it becomes clearer that the Kyoto Protocol is doomed, the need within green political circles to blame domestic enemies for the failure of this unsustainable treaty will only become more pressing. Expect congressional subpoenas, show trial hearings, and harassment suits by state attorneys general to punish climate skeptics and silence free market voices in the marketplace of ideas.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />