Clinton’s Global‐​Warming Time Bomb


Now that the election's finally over, the Clinton administration has a last chance to do some real damage to George W. Bush's economy.

President Clinton believes passionately that part of his legacy will be toput in place a mechanism that will forever mire America in the UnitedNations' infamous Kyoto Protocol on global warming. Last month, thesignatories met at The Hague, where Clinton proposed that we meet almost 90percent of our obligations to reduce net emissions of major greenhouse gasesby cutting energy use. Originally, the United States had proposed to lock up50 percent of such emissions through trees and soil management -- arelatively inexpensive proposition -- but the European Union insists onemissions reductions, a course that will cause us grave economic harm.

So we caved all the way to a 90 percent reduction, and the EU still said no,we need more. Then, last week, the Clinton administration tried again in aclosed-door meeting in Ottawa, Canada. Still no agreement. Finally, on Dec.13, Norway's Environment Ministry invited everyone to Oslo -- beforeChristmas -- for a third try.

This will be the last go-round, and Clinton has every incentive to give awaythe store. The result is a twofold "legacy" -- being the first U.S. leaderto commit to major reductions in greenhouse gases, and saddling the incomingpresident with a massive political and economic burden that will haveabsolutely no detectable effect on global weather and climate.

The political gains are obvious. Bush either gets clobbered in 2004 or theRepublicans suffer in 2008. While Kyoto agreements go into force in 2008,major taxes and infrastructural changes have to begin long before then tomeet these massive reductions in energy use. First, say good-bye toaffordable electricity. Currently 56 percent of our juice is produced byburning coal, but because it emits a bit more greenhouse gas per unit energythan natural gas (which costs more), well, coal's gotta go.

California, as usual, is leading the way here. Thanks to a moratorium onproduction of fossil fuel power plants, they're out of power. It is a sadday when our Grinch-green friends compel us to turn off the Christmaslights, but that is the case right now in Los Angeles.

Second, we hope you like your new hybrid automobile. The technology's reallycool. My Honda Insight really does get 70 miles per gallon on a good day,and it is an engineering marvel. The only problem is that Honda's losing atleast $8,000 per car, and the company only sold 3,502 through November. Itseats two comfortably.

So either we're going to have to pay about 50 percent more for a mid-rangehybrid car, or we're all going to have to make it up in taxes to subsidizethose who do buy them. And it might require quite a subsidy, too. Insightsales in November, at 291 units, were down 40 percent from August, despitegiveaway prices.

Third, the $2-a-gallon gas of spring 2000 will be just a fond memory, thanksto the taxes required to discourage enough consumption to make you buy thatsubsidized hybrid.

High gas prices, tax-mandated technology, and dark Christmas trees are notthe correlates of political popularity. But that is exactly where Clintoncould force Bush to go if he gives away the store in Oslo.

All this for an agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, that is not the law of theland. It hasn't been ratified by the Senate, and it stands little chance.And even if it were in force, the Clinton administration's own scientistssay it would only change global temperature by seven hundredths of a degreein 50 years. That's too small to measure.

There will almost certainly be some weather disaster during the Bushadministration. Right now, the insured value of property along the EastCoast is almost equal to our annual Gross Domestic Product. We haven't had aCategory 5 hurricane hit since 1969. Even a lower Category 4, well-aimed,will cause unimaginable destruction. Federal scientist Christopher Landsea(the most appropriately named hurricanologist in the world) has shown thateven this class of hurricane, if it hits Miami/Fort Lauderdale, will be goodfor about $70 billion. On the high end, $100 billion from a Category 5 isn'tout of the question. People will blame global warming rather than admit it'spretty stupid to sink one's life savings in a sand dune on a hurricane-pronebeach.

In Bush Sr.'s administration, the Senate was adamantly opposed to adifferent climate treaty -- the Montreal Protocol to ban chlorofluorocarbons(CFC) refrigerants. NASA scientist Bob Watson -- now the powerful head ofthe U.N.'s Panel on Climate Change -- announced an imminent ozone hole overNorth America, and five days later, the Senate passed a ban on CFCs, 99 to1. A senator by the name of Al Gore whipped up the troops with animpassioned speech about an "ozone hole over Kennebunkport," Bush's home.

Never mind that the predicted disaster never happened. NASA had made ameasurement error. But Bob and his friend Al had correctly calculated thepolitical trajectory that would bring in the ban on CFCs.

So it can happen, and next week in Oslo, the Clinton administration may sowthe seeds that trash the future of George W. Bush.