Commentary

New Energy Bill Would Enact Kyoto Protocol

While there’s been much carping about the pork-laden, recently enacted farm bill, it turns out to be small fry compared to current energy legislation. If passed intact, HR 4, the “Energy Policy Act of 2002,” will begin the stealth enactment of the infamous Kyoto Protocol on global warming, wisely canned by President Bush a year ago.

Of particular concern is Title X, which requires industry to “voluntarily” report its total emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. “Require” and “voluntary” can only coexist in the goofy world of Washington, as the reporting of carbon dioxide becomes mandatory for all industry under this bill if 60 percent of the nation’s total emissions aren’t “voluntarily” reported.

Who’s kidding whom? The purpose of Title X is to establish some type of baseline for carbon dioxide emissions so that some type of arbitrary “cap” can be legislated. Think of this as a Corporate Average Fuel Economy program for me, thee, and everything we own. This is the deceptive atmosphere that pervades HR 4, which is based upon misleading “findings.” If these “facts” are incorrect or incomplete, what does that say about the subsequent regulations? Let’s examine just two of the many “findings” in HR 4, and propose some modest, more factual revisions. Current “Finding #1”: “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded…that most of the warming of the last 50 years is `attributable to human activities’ and that the Earth’s average temperature can be expected to rise between 2.5 and 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit this century.”

Missing Facts: The earth’s surface temperature has warmed a little over 1 degree in the last 100 years. Half of that warming took place before humans could have caused it, and an additional 10 percent or so of the more recent warming has been caused by changes in the sun. Most of that recent warming is in the coldest air of winter, as predicted by greenhouse theory. In other words, the total warming caused by people is a shade less than a mere half of a degree.

The U.N. made 245 separate forecasts for the next 100 years, based on different assumptions about energy use. The one that warms over 10 degrees predicts unprecedented changes in both per-capita emissions of carbon dioxide and the number of people on the planet. Both fly in the face of reality: Carbon dioxide per capita has been basically constant since we started measuring it nearly 50 years ago, and population projections are being scaled down rapidly as the world’s economies develop. Most of the U.N.’s other 244 forecasts are in the lower half of the predicted range. An extension of current emission trends produces a warming that is slightly beneath their lowest estimate.

Revised “Finding #1”: “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that human beings have contributed to a slight warming of planetary mean temperatures in the past 50 years, largely in the coldest air of the winter. Based upon extrapolation of current carbon dioxide emission trends and latest population projections, the warming of the next 100 years is likely to be around 2.5 degrees. Other, less likely assumptions could produce more warming.”

Current “Finding #4”: “The IPCC has stated that … global average sea level has risen, oceanic heat content has increased, and snow and ice extent have decreased, which threatens to inundate low-lying island nations and coastal regions throughout the world.” Missing Facts: Recent studies of satellite data and submarine records reveal that the rise in sea level due to human-induced climate change is at best about 2.5 inches, approximately half of what the U.N. has estimated. This forces a halving of the IPCC’s previous 100-year average projection, down to nine inches. Much of the U.S. Atlantic coast has seen much larger sea level rises in the last 100 years because of geological activity. Pretty much no one but a few scientists have even noticed it as we happily adapted, building increasingly expensive beach houses.

Melting of sea ice does not change sea level: Pour yourself a drink and prove it. Melting of land ice does. The “ice balance” in Greenland, the largest ice mass in our hemisphere, is neutral. In Antarctica, the continental sheets are growing, not shrinking. Revised “Finding #4”: “Most recent findings reveal a slight rise in sea level as a result of human activities, but there is no evidence for an increasing trend. Observations indicate that sea level will continue to rise, at a rate that most developed economies have easily adapted to.”

Space doesn’t permit an expanded criticism of other findings, but one of them deserves a Dishonorable Mention: HR 4 cites a government report, which turns out to be the “U.S. National Assessment” of climate change. It is based upon two climate models that perform worse than a table of random numbers applied to U.S. temperatures. For this, and for all the other half-truths in HR 4, we’re supposed to start down the economically disastrous road to Kyoto?

Patrick J. Michaels is a senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute.