The Kyoto Charade

One of the things I keep trying to hammer home to the media is the extent to which legislative promises to meet environmental goal X sometime in the future have almost always been, and likely always will be, meaningless blather

The reason is simple. Voters love promises to accomplish wonderful things, but they don’t love burdensome policies to secure those wonderful things. Because the public’s attention span is quite limited to say the least, loud and vigorous promises to slay environmental dragons will harvest political capital while subsequent failure to actually slay those dragons will go relatively unnoticed and cost politicians little. 

More data confirming that insight (reported in Platt’s, subscription required) came our way yesterday courtesy of Cap Gemini, a global consulting firm. European greenhouse gas emissions rose 0.4 percent in 2005 despite the fact that meeting European obligations under the Kyoto Protocol requires emissions to decline 0.3 percent per annum from 1990 through 2012. According to Cap Gemini, Europe is 300 million metric tons of CO2 away from meeting its treaty obligations, which means that it is ”highly unlikely” (Cap Gemini’s words) that European obligations under Kyoto will be met. 

Examination of the emissions data over time reveals that the Protocol is having no detectable impact on European emission trends. Greenhouse gases come primarily from fossil fuels, which means that unless fossil fuels become very expensive via taxation or regulation, emissions will remain unaffected. European governments, however, lack the stomach to inflate the heck out of fossil fuel prices because the public has no appetite for such a thing. A poll conducted a few months ago (EUObserver.com, subscription required) for the European Commission, for instance, found that 59 percent of those (notoriously Green) Europeans surveyed were not “prepared to pay more for energy produced from renewable sources than for energy produced from other sources.”

Why do environmentalists put up with this political charade? I’ve been asking that of environmental leaders of late, and as best as I can tell, they tolerate this kind of duplicity from their political champions because they fear that the charade is the best they can hope for at present. Better that politicians pretend to be doing something important while actually doing something quite inconsequential than for politicians to tell the Greens to get lost altogether.  

Maybe so, but the environmental lobbyists are probably hurting their own cause in the process. After all, if the public thinks that meaningful and low-cost things are being accomplished to address warming today, they will be less inclined to support far more costly programs to do the same tomorrow.  

Fine with us.