Commentary

Blair Plays Fair

After years of promoting the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, British Prime Minister Tony Blair his finally seen the light: the Protocol is simply not the way to deal with planetary warming, and it will take away capital that would more wisely be invested in technological development.

Blair’s venue was as important as his words. He killed Kyoto in front of former president Bill Clinton, whose vice president, Al Gore, made Kyoto possible. Speaking at the former president’s “Clinton Global Initiative” conference in New York last month, Blair declared, “I would say probably I’m changing my thinking about [global warming] in the past two or three years…We have got to start from the brutal honesty about the politics of how we deal with it. The truth is no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in light of a long-term environmental problem.”

Blair recognized Kyoto’s fatal flaw: The U.S. is simply not going to implement it. “Some people have [ratified] Kyoto, some people haven’t signed Kyoto, right. That’s a disagreement. It’s there. It’s not going to be resolved.”

Further, Blair eschewed another Kyoto-style treaty: “I don’t think people are going, at least in the short term, to start negotiating another major treaty like Kyoto,” he said.

What’s remarkable is how close Blair’s position on climate change has become to that of the Bush administration: Kyoto won’t do anything about global warming. Instead, a rational approach to climate change — should policy changes really be necessary — requires major technological development and investment.

It’s well known in scientific circles that Kyoto would only change global temperature by seven-hundredths of a degree Celsius in fifty years. But it would require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012. The only way this is possible is with a massive series of highly regressive energy taxes.

How high must they be? No one knows, but a mini-experiment is currently running in the United States, thanks to the reverberations of Hurricane Katrina on limited gasoline and oil supplies. If prices at or near current levels continue for an extended period of time (and some economists think that may be the case), what’s going to be the impact on consumption? Whatever number, it’s not going to be the 25 percent drop required for the U.S. to meet Kyoto. The average annual growth rate in our emissions since 1990 has been 1.3 percent.

Three dollars a gallon for gasoline translates to proportional increases across all other fossil fuels, all of which directly impact consumers’ spending on energy and transportation. It also indirectly raises the price of everything that requires fossil energy for manufacturing. People wind up paying more, which leaves them less to invest.

On the subject of investment in efficient technologies, Blair asked Clinton’s forum, “How do we put these incentives in the system so that the private sector, as well as the public says, this is the direction policy is going to go?”

The answer is obvious: If we want people to invest in the technologies of the future, they must have funds for investment. Taking money away in a futile attempt to affect the climate, like Kyoto, destroys that capital, putting it in the hands of governments that must of necessity bias their investments in ineffective, politically correct technologies like solar energy and windmills.

Tony Blair has seen the light. With regard to planetary temperature, the future is not today’s Kyoto Protocol or any future sibling. Instead it lies in investment. For some reason, though, he has not yet learned that this is much better done by individuals than by governments, upon whom lobbyists force inefficient choices.

Blair has also seen the light about the futility of the Kyoto Protocol and the importance of private investment. Now, if someone could only illuminate him with the notion that politics makes government a bad investor.

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media.