I got my fair share of abuse recently on the BBC. “Isn’t the U.S. an awfulcountry?” ranted a Labor MP. “With only 5 percent of the world’spopulation, it produces 20 percent of those terrible gases that are warmingour 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 theeconomic engine that drives America forward while Europe lags behind. Thepersistent and significant differences between American and European grosseconomic production and unemployment are not accidents. Europe’s leadersknow Kyoto would “fix” that.
If we implement Kyoto as our European friends want, it would cost us about 3percent of GDP per year. And for what? According to climate models (whoseveracity is another subject), if every Kyoto signatory lived up to theProtocol, the net amount of warming prevented in the next 50 years would be0.13ºF, 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. Butwhat does that mean? Instead, people should focus on is how efficient weare with respect to these emissions. If India and China produce, say, onehalf of our emissions per citizen (as they will in a few years), they stillemit far more than we do. And if their gross domestic product remains belowours, 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 dioxidebuck. The best way to do this is to divide our greenhouse emissions byour economic output, which gives emissions per dollar of gross domesticproduct. For the 10 biggest emitters, the worst in this respect is Russia,where 148 million people produce virtually nothing. The scope of Russia’spoverty is now beginning to show up in life expectancies, which arenose-diving toward the 1900 level of 50 years for males.
For this effort, let’s assign the Russians an emission-economic rating of100, the worst rate. On this relative scale, America rates a 33. The bestare the Japanese, at 18, not far ahead of the United States, and mainlybecause of their intensive use of nuclear power. For comparison, SouthAfrica rates a 69, Saudi Arabia--despite its high GDP from oil revenues--a62, and our Canadian neighbors 36. Among the 10 largest emitters, in termsof economic efficiency, America comes in third, after Japan and Germany.That’s not bad, considering our lack of nuclear, which, in recent years hasprovided only a bit more than 10 percent of our total energy. The basicfigures needed to make these calculations are easily obtained from variousgovernment 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 inarguments like this!) nations that are bigger geographically are going toemit more carbon dioxide, even after adjusting emissions for economicefficiency.
One solution is to adjust emissions per unit GDP for the area of eachcountry. In this calculation, the United States comes in as the number onemost efficient nation on earth. The worst is the United Kingdom, whereeveryone is crabbing about Bush’s position on Kyoto.
There are several reasons for this. One is our use of railroads toefficiently haul about 40 percent of what we make, compared to Europe, wheretrains mainly carry people instead. Many of these folks ride because theycan’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 fortrains to move people, with our major points of commerce generally scatteredon our four coasts (Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Great Lakes).But, by moving people in hours instead of days that commerce becomes quickerand more efficient.
Admittedly, seat 13E isn’t a couchette on the Orient Express, but it getsbusiness people to Dallas and back in a day. It is a tribute to theeconomies of scale that the United States can produce so much, soefficiently, even as most travel is accomplished by the jet engine, whichproduces more greenhouse gases per mile than any other form of propulsion.
This massive transportation need will never go away. Nor will the compactnations of Europe get bigger. As a result of size, then, the energy (read:transportation) taxes required by the Kyoto Protocol put America at atremendous economic disadvantage with regard to our competitors.
In a nutshell, that’s why the European governments are so exercised aboutBush’s “no” to Kyoto. They see it as an international instrument that woulddestroy the economy of their major competitor, even as they know it doesn’tdo a thing about global temperature. These facts are evident. VicePresident Cheney’s energy task force should make them public.