Precautionary Foolishness


Marlo Lewis, Jr. Staff Director Subcommittee on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources, and Regulatory AffairsSpeech to the Doctors for Disaster PreparednessJuly 1, 2000

The title of my talk is “Precautionary Foolishness.” An alternative title I might have picked is “Pseudo Sustainability,” because the campaign for a global climate treaty is waged under the two great banners or battle flags of the environmental movement: the “Precautionary Principle” and “Sustainable Development.” However, inspired by the Marx Brothers’ irreverent debunking of academic puffery, I am tempted to call my talk “Horse Feathers.” I’ll explain why in some detail later on.

What I’d like to do here tonight is challenge the pro-Kyoto coalition’s strongest argument in favor of an international climate treaty. This is the argument that, “if we do it smart,” Kyoto will provide low-cost planet insurance for present and future generations.

In candid moments, Kyoto partisans will admit that the theory of catastrophic global warming has not been validated by experimental or empirical evidence. They’ll concede that scientists know too little about the underlying physics, that computer models are too slow, and that the evidence is too conflicted, to permit a genuine resolution of the global warming debate. In other words, they’ll admit, at least privately, that the science supporting the Kyoto Protocol isn’t really clear, compelling, or “settled.” But they don’t see this as a great liability. Indeed, in their view, our very ignorance about the extent of human influence on the climate is reason enough to justify an enterprise like the Kyoto Protocol.

I. Precautionary Deception

The Kyoto crowd’s trump-card argument in the global warming debate is not any testable scientific hypothesis but something called the Precautionary Principle. This is the proposition that lack of scientific certainty should not become an excuse for inaction where there are threats of serious or irreversible harm to health, safety, or biodiversity.

The precautionary case for Kyoto goes as follows. The earth may be warming; industrial activity may be the cause; and the long-term effects may be catastrophic. Furthermore, a global program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may be feasible and effective in averting or mitigating harmful climate change.

Mankind, through its combustion of fossil fuels, has been running a gigantic, uncontrolled experiment on the climate system. Since this experiment is potentially life threatening, we should start applying controls now. Curbing energy use to reduce emissions may be costly, but what is money compared to the lives, species, and unique eco-systems that may otherwise be lost? Kyoto or some similar treaty is, therefore, the only responsible option. The alternative is to throw caution to the winds and “gamble with the only planet we have.”

This argument is rhetorically powerful because it sounds so much like familiar maxims of common sense – look before you leap, err on the side of caution, better safe than sorry. My talk has three parts.

First, I’ll show that the Precautionary Principle is incoherent, an ethical empty suit. We can with equal legitimacy invoke it to oppose the Kyoto Protocol. It supplies no rational guidance for choosing between competing public policies. Next, I’ll offer specific reasons why the Kyoto Protocol is not an insurance policy. Finally, I’ll explain why the Kyoto agenda rests on a false view of sustainable development.

The Precautionary Principle Is Incoherent

The fatal flaw in the precautionary case for Kyoto – as in environmental advocacy generally – is its complete one-sidedness. Environmental advocates demand assurances of no harm only with respect to actions government might regulate, never with respect to government regulation itself. But government intervention frequently boomerangs, creating the very risks precautionists deem intolerable.

Consider a few examples. A favorite Kyotoite prescription for curbing the greenhouse gas emissions alleged to be causing global warming is to ratchet-up the fuel economy standards for automobiles. However, Federal fuel economy mandates have already forced automakers to produce smaller, lighter, less crash-resistant cars. The result? An additional 2,000-4,000 highway deaths per year, according to John Graham of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Since you are physicians, you probably know better than I do that well-intended Food and Drug Administration regulations sometimes hinder your ability to provide the best possible care to your patients. When FDA regulations delay the availability of life-saving therapies, people die.

Another example – environmental laws and regulations banning the pesticide DDT have contributed to malaria outbreaks in developing countries.

Frank Cross of the University of Texas at Austin notes that over-regulation can kill just by misdirecting resources and destroying wealth. Regulatory schemes that divert attention, ingenuity, and money from major threats to minor risks make us less safe. For example, the millions of dollars local governments waste on gold-plated Superfund cleanups cannot be used to improve police and fire protection. Similarly, the billions of dollars and untold thousands of hours U.S. policymakers and government contractors spend worrying about climate change divert attention, ingenuity, and money from other perils – such as America’s complete and utter vulnerability to missile attack.

Equally important is the fact that, for individuals as well as nations, wealthier is healthier and richer is safer. Precautionists ignore the obvious connection between livelihoods, living standards, and lives. Wealth is the single most important factor affecting health and longevity. A study published in JAMA in July 1998 found that the death rate of America’s poor is three times that of the general population. Only 13 percent of the difference could be explained by risky lifestyle choices such as overeating, excessive drinking, or smoking. The chief cause of the higher death rates was poverty itself. Poverty is stressful and correlated with several well-known disadvantages – unsafe neighborhoods, unhygienic living conditions, and inadequate medical care.

So, here is a precautionary argument against the Kyoto Protocol. Stabilizing greenhouse gases at levels low enough to cool the planet may require drastic reductions in energy use (actually, I think this is a near certainty, but I’ll say “may” to preserve the parallelism with the pro-Kyoto argument). An energy-constrained world may be a poorer world (again, this is a virtual certainty, since energy is critical to manufacturing, transportation, telecommunications – you name it). A poorer world may be a world with more starving people (indeed, how could it not be?).

True, I do not have scientific proof that the Kyoto Protocol and its successor treaties would condemn millions to poverty, starvation, and misery. But the Precautionary Principle says that we should not let the absence of scientific certainty become an excuse for inaction. It also says we should not permit far-reaching innovations until they are shown to be safe. No one has demonstrated that the Kyoto Protocol won’t have harmful consequences. Therefore, we should oppose it.

For far too long, environmental lobbyists have gotten away with precautionary deception. They say we should not permit new products, technologies, or industrial processes until those innovations are shown to be safe. Yet they are willing to launch new regulatory schemes – on a planetary scale, no less – without giving a thought to the potentially lethal effects. In the global warming debate, they admonish us not to gamble with the only planet we have. Yet they are more than willing to gamble with the only economy we have. They tell us to go slow – or just plain stop – when it comes to building power plants, producing genetically engineered crops, or expanding suburban neighborhoods. Yet they rush to judgment and demand immediate action to solve a problem that science has not yet shown to exist. They cannot logically have it both ways. Precautionists cannot consistently say that “safety first” trumps all other considerations in the realm of private action but has no application in the realm of governmental action.

Now, I am not for a moment suggesting that the Precautionary Principle would be beneficial were it applied evenhandedly, to bureaucrats and businessmen alike. Inflating “Safety First!” from a mere rule of thumb into a categorical imperative – an absolute overriding duty – is a recipe for paralysis and stagnation, perhaps the riskiest conditions of all. My point, rather, is that the Precautionary Principle is not really a principle. A genuine principle is neutral, applying equally to all particulars of a certain category or description. The relevant category here is risk. Yet advocates of the Precautionary Principle never apply it to the risks of government intervention. So, if the Precautionary Principle isn’t a principle, what is it? It is a rhetorical weapon. Its purpose is to exaggerate the risks associated with economic endeavor and conceal the risks arising from the exercise of political power.

An honest presentation of any regulatory issue begins by acknowledging that there are risks on both sides of the ledger. There are risks of under-regulation but also of over-regulation. Risks of climate change but also of climate change policy. Do the risks of climate change outweigh those of climate change policy? Or do we have more to fear from Kyoto than from global warming itself? The purpose of the Precautionary Principle is to sweep such questions under the rug.

II. Kyoto Is Not an Insurance Policy

The Clinton-Gore Administration claims that Kyoto is an insurance policy, and insurance, by definition, is supposed to make us safer. But is Kyoto the real thing, or is it as phony as the Precautionary Principle?

Whether or not a proposed insurance policy makes sense chiefly depends on three things: the probability of the potential losses to be insured against, the cost of the premiums, and the extent of the coverage. Earthquakes are very real and sometimes catastrophic events. But they do not occur as frequently in Washington, D.C., where I work, as they do here in San Francisco. In fact, earthquakes occur so rarely in D.C. that even low-cost earthquake insurance may be a bad investment for homeowners. Fires do destroy homes in D.C., and it would be unwise not to have fire insurance. But how much should one be willing to pay? A policy so expensive that it compromised a homeowner’s ability to purchase health insurance, keep his car in good repair, or save for his retirement, would probably make him less safe overall.

Finally, an insurance policy worthy of the name should help make the insured whole after misfortune has struck. Or, if it cannot do that, it should at least reduce the odds of a bad thing happening. If the policy cannot either reduce the likelihood or cushion the impact of the insured-against event, it’s a scam.

These simple reflections suggest that we ask three questions of the Kyoto insurance salesmen: What is the likelihood of a human-induced global warming catastrophe? How much will the premium payments cost? How much protection will Kyoto insurance deliver?

How Likely Is Catastrophic Warming?

A variety of empirical evidence suggests we have little or nothing to fear. Kyoto partisans warn that if we do not institute global energy use controls, by the late 21st century, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations will reach double the level of pre-industrial times. Average global temperatures could rise 2 degrees centigrade or more, with all manner of possible catastrophic side-effects: more frequent and severe extreme weather events, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the spread of insect-born diseases.

Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations are already 50 percent higher than in pre-industrial times. We are half way toward the dreaded doubling of greenhouse gas concentrations. What has happened as a result? The earth seems to have warmed about 0.5 degrees centigrade since 1880. However, that is only half the amount projected by the climate models underpinning the Kyoto Protocol. Moreover, much of that modest warming occurred prior to 1940, whereas 80 percent of the buildup of greenhouse gases occurred after 1940. This suggests two things. First, much of this century’s modest warming may be due to natural causes such as changes in solar energy output. Second, since the models overestimate the warming of the past 100 years, they likely also overestimate the warming of the next hundred years.

In addition, the models have been grossly inaccurate in projecting global temperature changes in more than 80 percent of the relevant portion of the atmosphere: the middle- and upper-troposphere. This layer of the atmosphere extends from about 5,000 feet to 8 kilometers. It is the critical atmospheric “weather zone,” and it is where the models predict the strongest “warming signal.” As previous speakers no doubt have mentioned, highly accurate satellite and weather balloon measurements show almost no net warming in this portion of the atmosphere over the past 20 years.

From such facts, we may conclude that the climate system is probably less “sensitive” to “greenhouse forcing” than the climate models assume.

What about extreme weather events, melting ice sheets, and the spread of tropical diseases? Here I would simply refer you to the work of hurricane scientists like Chris Landsea and William Gray, glaciologists like Howard Conway, and infectious disease experts like Paul Reiter. During the past fifty years, the period of the most rapid increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, the frequency and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes have declined.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet does appear to be gradually melting – but as part of a natural cycle that began when the ice age ended, 10,000 years ago. Furthermore, it would take thousands of years, not decades or centuries, for subtle changes in average global temperature – like those postulated by global warming theory – to affect the structural integrity of a massive glacial formation like the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

As for insect-borne diseases, malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever were once common in North America (including Canada and Alaska), Western Europe (including Scandinavia), and Russia. Moreover, they were common in those places during the 19th century, when the world by all accounts was colder than it is today. Insect-borne diseases are not diseases of climate but of poverty. All attempts to link specific recent outbreaks to climate change cannot survive a confrontation with the facts. In all cases, local conditions (such as the banning of DDT, land use changes, or foreign contact) account for expansions of disease vectors or increases in infection rates. Developed countries like the United States need not fear the spread of insect-borne diseases provided they remain prosperous. And, whatever the climate, developing countries will remain at risk until they acquire window screens, air conditioning, modern medicine, and other amenities most Americans take for granted.

In contrast to the unsubstantiated speculations of climate alarmists, literally thousands of scientific observations demonstrate that virtually all food crops, trees, and plants raised in CO2-enriched environments grow faster, stronger, more profusely, and with greater resistance to pollution stress. Sylvan Wittwer, a leading expert on plant biology, estimates that about 10 percent of the increase in world agricultural productivity over the past five decades should be attributed to the increase in atmospheric concentrations of CO2.

CO2 from energy emissions is also a source of profound environmental benefits. All animal life depends, directly or indirectly, on plant life – for food, habitat, or both. By nourishing the planet’s flora, CO2 emissions enrich the matrix for the planet’s fauna. So, to paraphrase the famous statement of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the balance of evidence suggests that man-made CO2 is not destabilizing the climate system but, rather, enhancing global food security and biodiversity.

How Much Will It Cost?

I turn how to the second question – how much will Kyoto insurance cost? The Administration says that if we “do it smart,” implement it through “flexible mechanisms” like emissions trading, Kyoto won’t cost much at all – maybe one-tenth of one percent of GDP. Specifically, the Administration estimates that under the Kyoto Protocol, permits to emit 1 ton of CO2 will sell internationally for $14 to $23 per ton.

This estimate has no credibility. In two separate hearings, House Small Business Committee Chairman Jim Talent grilled former Council of Economic Advisors Chairwoman Janet Yellen on the Administration’s economic analysis. Mr. Talent asked Dr. Yellen some very simple questions, which she could not answer.

One line of questioning at one hearing went like this. You say that with emissions trading, Kyoto will cost $14 to $23 for every ton of CO2 we reduce. How much would Kyoto cost without emissions trading? How much if we had to reach our target just by eliminating domestic production of greenhouse gases? Dr. Yellen could not, or would not, say. Talent then pointed out the obvious. If we don’t know how much Kyoto will cost without emissions trading, we cannot estimate what it will cost with emissions trading. Emissions trading may reduce Kyoto’s base cost by 10 percent, 20 percent, or even 50 percent. But unless we know what that base cost is, we cannot estimate a final price tag.

In a second line of questioning at another hearing, Talent asked Dr. Yellen whether price is a function of supply and demand. She of course agreed. Talent then asked, okay, does the Administration have an estimate of the number of emission permits or credits each country participating in the Kyoto Protocol will want to buy, and similarly, an estimate of the number of permits each country will want to sell? In other words, what is the Administration’s estimate of the potential supply of and demand for emission credits? As it turned out, the Administration had no such estimate. The Administration had attempted to estimate price without first estimating supply and demand. Through these two simple lines of questioning, Talent exposed the Administration’s economic analysis as a complete bust.

So, what’s the real cost of Kyoto? I think we can begin to infer the answer from a recent report published by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the Department of Energy. The EIA, incidentally, is a very reliable source of analysis and information, even though it is part of the Federal government. Because EIA has no regulatory authority, it has no regulatory agenda. The only thing EIA has to sell, as it were, is quality analysis. Also, EIA is set up statutorily so that it does not have to clear its reports with any other department or agency, not even its parent agency, the Department of Energy. EIA, therefore, has an unusual degree of independence for a government organization.

According to the EIA report, International Energy Outlook 2000, world energy consumption is projected to increase 60 percent over the 23-year period from 1997 to 2020. World carbon emissions from energy use are projected to exceed 1990 levels by 40 percent in 2010 and 72 percent in 2020. U.S. carbon emissions are projected to exceed 1990 levels by 30 percent. As you may know, the Kyoto Protocol aims to reduce industrial country carbon emissions 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. The U.S. target is 7 percent below 1990 levels during 2008-2012.

What these numbers should tell us is that the global economy and the Kyoto agenda are marching in opposite directions. The global economy is moving toward dramatically expanded energy use and substantial increases energy-related carbon emissions. The Kyoto Protocol aims to restrict energy emissions by restricting energy use. The Kyoto Protocol is at loggerheads with one of the broadest and deepest trends in the global marketplace. How, then, could Kyoto possibly be cheap or painless?

Now, you might think, isn’t the problem here that we waste energy? If we just learned to use energy more efficiently, wouldn’t Kyoto be a piece of cake? The answer is no. The EIA’s analysis already assumes substantial improvements in energy efficiency. EIA projects that, from 1997 to 2020, the United States and Western Europe will experience a 23 percent to 27 percent drop in energy intensity – the amount of energy consumed per unit of GDP. Similarly, EIA estimates that China, the leading developing country emitter of greenhouse gases, will achieve a 35 percent decrease in energy intensity.

So, why will global energy-related emissions go up 40 percent by 2010? Because rapid though the improvements in energy efficiency will be, energy consumption will grow even more rapidly.

To repeat, the Kyoto Protocol and the global economy are on a collision course. Which means implementing Kyoto cannot be cheap or painless. Kyoto’s premium payments are bound to be higher than the Administration’s estimates, perhaps staggeringly so.

How Much Protection Will It Provide?

The last question we must consider in assessing Kyoto insurance is – How much protection it will provide? In popular parlance, “insurance” may refer either to a policy that reduces the likelihood of a bad thing happening, or a policy that reduces the impact of a bad thing once it has happened. Real insurance usually does some of both. For example, if one has a safe driving record, it is easier to qualify for auto insurance, or get better rates. Thus, auto insurance encourages safe driving, reducing the likelihood of accidents. And if we have an accident, the policy will alleviate the financial impact.

Let’s look at Kyoto under those two aspects. First, how much would Kyoto reduce the likelihood of global warming, assuming for the moment that the climate models are right? According to the world’s most advanced climate model – the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s model – the Kyoto Protocol, even if faithfully implemented by all 38 Annex I countries, will avoid only 0.07 degrees Celsius of global warming by the year 2050. That miniscule amount of avoided global warming is so small scientists probably would not even be able to detect it. The Kyoto Protocol provides no protection from the potential hazards of global warming – none.

Finally, would Kyoto be of any help in making us whole if harmful climate change were to occur? Here’s where the insurance analogy completely breaks down. Kyoto could do nothing to put us back on our feet if climate disaster strikes. Quite the contrary, whatever resources we apply under Kyoto to prevent climate change, we cannot use to adapt to climate change if it occurs. Kyoto insurance is all premium and no coverage.

Kyoto insurance is a bad deal for at least two additional reasons. First, the same climate models that project rising global temperatures from increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases also indicate that it makes no practical difference whether substantial emissions cuts are implemented today or 20 years from now. Delaying Kyoto-style emission reductions until 2020 would add no more than a few tenths of a degree centigrade by the year 2100. That means we have at least 20 years to do additional research on the science of climate change before we would need to consider a treaty like the Kyoto Protocol.

Indeed, even if global warming turns out to be a real problem, mankind in 2020, 2050, or 2100 will enjoy greater wealth and technological prowess than we do. Posterity will be better equipped than we are to mitigate, or adapt to climate change, whether natural or human-induced, should that be necessary.

However, posterity will not achieve the full resilience and security of superior wealth and technology if we sabotage economic growth through the imposition of costly regulatory schemes. Bear in mind that Kyoto advocates view the Protocol as just a beginning – the first of a series of energy-suppression treaties, each mandating stricter controls and encompassing more countries than its predecessor. For example, Jerry Mahlman of Princeton’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory stated that it would take “thirty Kyotos” to stabilize global concentrations of greenhouse gases. One Kyoto is scary enough. Two, three, many Kyotos would surely be a prescription for global poverty.

III. Pseudo Sustainability

I would now like to say a few words about the fundamental idea underlying the Kyoto Protocol – a concept that environmental activists call “sustainable development.”

Environmental activists tend to assume that, for development to be sustainable, mankind must be in a continual (decade-by-decade, if not year-by-year) equilibrium or balance with the environment. Not so. Consider the “timber famine” scare, which helped launch the original conservation movement at the turn of the century.

For some 200 years, Americans cut more trees than they planted. In the 1890s and early 20th century, conservationists warned that, in a few decades, all the forests would be gone. There would be no more wood to make homes. Houses would be so expensive only the very rich could afford them. In fact, America’s forests have regenerated dramatically since 1920, and wood is plentiful. Government policies of course played a role in forest restoration, but market forces were more important.

Technological improvements in agriculture made it possible to grow more food on less land. This not only spared forests that did not need to be cleared to feed a growing population. It also allowed reforestation in areas, such as the Northeast, where farming ceased to be profitable. Technological advances in construction and manufacturing allowed businesses and consumers to substitute other materials – metals, plastics – for wood. Coal, oil, natural gas, hydroelectricity, and nuclear power replaced wood as a fuel source. Private timber production became economical – so much so that, by 1993, an estimated 4 million trees were planted in the U.S. each day.

My point? Turn-of-the-century conservationists made extrapolations from current trends, factoring in increased demand for wood due to population and economic growth, and concluded that America was headed for disaster. They believed America was using wood unsustainably. They were wrong. In a nation of industrious pioneers, where labor was scarce and wood plentiful, it made perfect sense to draw down timber stocks for long stretches of time. Americans cut more trees than they planted in the 18th and 19th centuries; they reversed course in the 20th century. That is sustainable development – over the long term.

There is a parallel here to the global warming issue. During the past two centuries, mankind has been carbon loading the atmosphere – emitting more CO2 than the earth is absorbing or sequestering. Once again voices of doom warn that our development is unsustainable. But this assumes that, without massive government intervention, the fossil fuel era will last forever. Is that a reasonable belief?

Let’s assume mankind continues to carbon load the atmosphere for most, maybe all, of the 21st century. That still leaves the 22nd century and beyond for the recovery phase. Surely, at some point, civilization will jettison fossil fuels, or radically transform them into low-emission or zero-emission energy sources. When and as that happens, nature will start removing more carbon from the atmosphere than mankind puts into it. Taking this long view, the 20th and 21st century buildup of atmospheric carbon is no more a portent of disaster than was the decline of 18th and 19th century timber stocks.

Horse Feathers

Let’s try a thought experiment. And I ask that we strive to do justice to the memory of Groucho, Chico, and Harpo.

In the late 19th and earth 20th centuries, horse manure was a major health hazard in American cities, causing encephalitis and other insect-borne diseases. Each horse emits about 45 pounds of waste per day. And, pound for pound, the stuff is certainly deadlier than CO2! By the early 20th century, there were so many horses that one-third of all U.S. farmland was devoted to producing fodder.

Now, imagine that a James Hansen of that era steps forward and makes extrapolations from current trends. Factoring in urbanization, population growth, and economic growth, this modeler projects that by 1950 Americans will literally be inundated in equine emissions. Disease outbreaks will decimate cities. Wildlife habitat will disappear as farmers cut down forests and drain wetlands to grow fodder for horses. Food prices will soar as more agricultural resources are diverted from human nutrition to horse nutrition. Environmental refugees will stream across borders, straining social services. The equine emissions crisis will aggravate or cause political instability and international conflict.

To avert the crisis, policymakers propose an international treaty to limit the use of horses. There are fierce debates on whether all countries should have binding equine emission limits, or just the industrialized countries. Some argue that, since so much of economic life depends on horsepower, all nations must “meaningfully participate,” or else the treaty will create unfair trade advantages for developing countries. Others retort that developing countries are too poor to limit their use of horses, and should not be asked to do so until they reach our stage of development.

To break the stalemate over the treaty, some politicians propose a system of early action crediting. Under this scheme, businesses that voluntarily reduce their use of horses would earn credits they could later use to offset their obligations under a mandatory treaty. But a number of thorny details remain to be worked out. Should the reductions be measured against an historic baseline – how many horses the firm actually used? Or against a future projected baseline – the number of horses the firm planned to use under a business-as-usual scenario? Or, should the crediting be performance-based, with firms earning credits by reducing their use of horses per unit of production or sale? And what about sinks – should credits be given only for manure reductions or also for manure sequestration?

In the meantime, horse breeders lobby Washington to establish a “Partnership for a New Generation of Horses.” Under this scheme, taxpayers subsidize the breeding of horses that get more miles to the bushel of oats. Other interests lobby Congress for a “clean manure program” – an R&D effort to develop fodder that generates less infectious droppings.

Urban planners also get into the act, advocating “smart growth” policies. Ironically, these proposals are the exact opposite of what Al Gore is promoting today. Since the “solution to pollution is dilution,” these activists advocate low-density, sprawling development. Sprawl, they explain, will reduce the number of horses per square mile, hence reduce ambient equine emission concentrations.

And then along comes – Henry Ford! He solves the equine emissions crisis before it even starts by exploiting the commercial potential of a new technology. A quarter century after the modeler’s dire predictions, automobile civilization replaces horsepower civilization.

What today’s sustainable developers don’t seem to comprehend is that technology change is the great X factor in human affairs. Even in the short run, technology change is rather mysterious. Who among us predicted the marvels of the Internet economy even 10 years ago? Over the long run, technology change is essentially unpredictable. All we can safely assume about the world of 2075 or 2100 is that it will be more different from our world than ours is from the horse and buggy era. By the 22nd century, mankind will likely produce and consume energy in ways we cannot even imagine.

As Mark Mills reminds us, all climate models are based, explicitly or otherwise, on long-term technology forecasts. That is, to know how human activity will change the climate over the next century, one must also know what kinds of energy technologies will be prevalent 50 or 100 years hence. But that is impossible. We cannot know what has not yet been discovered or invented. What we can reasonably expect is that the 21st century will have its share of Henry Fords – and Einsteins, and Watson & Cricks.

The Kyoto Protocol is based on climate models that make various assumptions about key natural variables like water vapor, solar radiation, and ocean-atmosphere interaction. But even if the models some day get the science right, and can grasp the exact relationship between a ton of CO2 and an increment of global temperature, the models would still be no better than guesses – and most likely wrong guesses at that! Why? Because no matter how smart the science gets, the models must still make assumptions about that which cannot be modeled – long-term technology change.

Because long-term technology change is inherently unpredictable, climate change, insofar as it is affected by human activity, is also inherently unpredictable. Furthermore, because long-term technology change is unpredictable, it is sheer folly for today’s politicians to believe they can plan the energy economy of 2050 or 2100.

What then is the driving force behind this precautionary foolishness and pseudo-sustainability? What fuels this Horse Feathers treaty and agenda?

I suspect that behind the Kyoto Protocol is the age-old lust for power. Carbon dioxide is not only the fundamental nutrient of the planetary food chain. It is also the most ubiquitous byproduct of industrial civilization. Manufacturing, electric power generation, farming, automobiles, aircraft – all are major sources of carbon dioxide emissions. To successfully control CO2 emissions, government must regulate practically everything – and on a global scale.

Clearly, we have more to fear from climate change policy than from climate change itself. If we are to remain a free and prosperous people, we must categorically and unequivocally reject the Kyoto Protocol.