Competitive Enterprise Institute | 1899 L ST NW Floor 12, Washington, DC 20036 | Phone: 202-331-1010 | Fax: 202-331-0640
President Clinton says America could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent at no cost "if we just changed the way we do things." But there is no practical way to engineer steep reductions in fossil fuel emissions without mandating severe cutbacks in energy use. And it is impossible to curb energy use on any significant scale without wrecking livelihoods and living standards. Clintons "all gain, no pain" approach to climate policy is pure globaloney.
For an international climate treaty even to begin to make sense, the scientific evidence of a greenhouse catastrophe would have to be clear and compelling, the need for concerted government intervention would have to be urgent, and the proposed solution (global controls on energy consumption) would have to be feasible. None of these assumptions can survive candid scrutiny.
To begin with, there is no scientific "consensus" about the likelihood, extent, or even reality of human-induced global warming. Highly accurate satellite data confirmed by weather balloon observations show the earth has experienced a slight cooling over the past 18 years.
As to the alleged urgency for action, the very computer models on which warming scenarios are based suggest that a 20-year delay in restricting emissions would generate only 0.2 degrees Centigrade additional warming by 2100 too small to affect any practical human or environmental interest. Signing a climate treaty this December would not just be premature, it would be irresponsible.
The proposed treaty would also fail to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations, even if it includes the worlds developing countries. Whereas the benefits of energy curtailment policies are distant and speculative, the costs are immediate and real. All parties to the agreement would thus have incentives to cheat. OPEC and many other cartel arrangements failed to enforce output restrictions when such controls conflicted with national interests. Why should the far more complex project of controlling global energy use ever succeed?
But even if Clinton were right about the science, the urgency of the problem, and the feasibility of a global energy cartel, he would still be pushing the wrong solution. The climate treaty would suppress the chief forces enabling societies to protect themselves from both natural and man-made disasters economic and technological innovation.
Why do tropical storms kill thousands of people in Bangladesh but cause little loss of life in Florida? Not because of any difference in weather patterns but because of the vast difference in wealth and the social resilience the capacity for intelligent adaptation that wealth makes possible.
To arm civilization with greater wealth and technological prowess, we must free the productive, inventive, adaptive private sector from government burdens and political interference. Instead, the climate treaty would further politicize and rigidify economic and technology development, herding entrepreneurs, inventors, and workers into politically-correct industrial policy schemes, and penalizing growth with new regulations. The climate treaty would take America, and the world, in exactly the wrong direction.