Europe’s Kyoto Scam

May 10, 2001 • Commentary

I got my fair share of abuse recently on the BBC. “Isn’t the U.S. an awful country?” ranted a Labor MP. “With only 5 percent of the world’s population, it produces 20 percent of those terrible gases that are warming our atmosphere. How dare President Bush say he won’t go along with the U.N.’ s Kyoto Protocol on global warming!”

But more telling is what the MP didn’t say. Kyoto would help wreck the economic engine that drives America forward while Europe lags behind. The persistent and significant differences between American and European gross economic production and unemployment are not accidents. Europe’s leaders know Kyoto would “fix” that.

If we implement Kyoto as our European friends want, it would cost us about 3 percent of GDP per year. And for what? According to climate models (whose veracity is another subject), if every Kyoto signatory lived up to the Protocol, the net amount of warming prevented in the next 50 years would be 0.13ºF, an amount too small to measure.

Holding up America as the environmental bad boy is just as ill‐​advised. Sure, the United States leads in per capita emissions of carbon dioxide. But what does that mean? Instead, people should focus on is how efficient we are with respect to these emissions. If India and China produce, say, one half of our emissions per citizen (as they will in a few years), they still emit far more than we do. And if their gross domestic product remains below ours, they then suffer from the twin sins of emissions and inefficiency.

So, let’s get real and see how many bangs we get for each carbon dioxide buck. The best way to do this is to divide our greenhouse emissions by our economic output, which gives emissions per dollar of gross domestic product. For the 10 biggest emitters, the worst in this respect is Russia, where 148 million people produce virtually nothing. The scope of Russia’s poverty is now beginning to show up in life expectancies, which are nose‐​diving toward the 1900 level of 50 years for males.

For this effort, let’s assign the Russians an emission‐​economic rating of 100, the worst rate. On this relative scale, America rates a 33. The best are the Japanese, at 18, not far ahead of the United States, and mainly because of their intensive use of nuclear power. For comparison, South Africa rates a 69, Saudi Arabia– despite its high GDP from oil revenues– a 62, and our Canadian neighbors 36. Among the 10 largest emitters, in terms of economic efficiency, America comes in third, after Japan and Germany. That’s not bad, considering our lack of nuclear, which, in recent years has provided only a bit more than 10 percent of our total energy. The basic figures needed to make these calculations are easily obtained from various government agencies, such as the Departments of Energy and Commerce.

On average, about one‐​third of a nation’s energy use goes to transportation. So, everything else being equal (a condition that rarely obtains except in arguments like this!) nations that are bigger geographically are going to emit more carbon dioxide, even after adjusting emissions for economic efficiency.

One solution is to adjust emissions per unit GDP for the area of each country. In this calculation, the United States comes in as the number one most efficient nation on earth. The worst is the United Kingdom, where everyone is crabbing about Bush’s position on Kyoto.

There are several reasons for this. One is our use of railroads to efficiently haul about 40 percent of what we make, compared to Europe, where trains mainly carry people instead. Many of these folks ride because they can’t afford gasoline–thanks to high taxes put in to fight global warming. Another reason is the airplane. The United States is simply too big for trains to move people, with our major points of commerce generally scattered on our four coasts (Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Great Lakes). But, by moving people in hours instead of days that commerce becomes quicker and more efficient.

Admittedly, seat 13E isn’t a couchette on the Orient Express, but it gets business people to Dallas and back in a day. It is a tribute to the economies of scale that the United States can produce so much, so efficiently, even as most travel is accomplished by the jet engine, which produces more greenhouse gases per mile than any other form of propulsion.

This massive transportation need will never go away. Nor will the compact nations of Europe get bigger. As a result of size, then, the energy (read: transportation) taxes required by the Kyoto Protocol put America at a tremendous economic disadvantage with regard to our competitors.

In a nutshell, that’s why the European governments are so exercised about Bush’s “no” to Kyoto. They see it as an international instrument that would destroy the economy of their major competitor, even as they know it doesn’t do a thing about global temperature. These facts are evident. Vice President Cheney’s energy task force should make them public.

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