Kyoto: Do the Math


Kudos to President Bush, the first world leader whose administration haspronounced the Kyoto Protocol stone, cold dead.

It’s about time —- and it’s about mathematics. Kyoto was probably the dumbestinternational instrument signed by an American chief executive.

Strong words, but easy to back up with a little primer on climate change.If we continue on our way, doing nothing and with no specific attempt tospread technologies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the earthwill continue to warm. Averaging the so called “general circulation climatemodels” used in the upcoming U.N. compendium on climate gives a 2.2ºC (4degrees Fahrenheit) warming for the next 100 years.

When run backwards, most (but not all) of those models “hind cast” too muchwarming in recent decades. When their mean prediction is adjusted for thisfact, and for the scientific truth that a small fraction of recent warmingis from changes in the sun, the expected warming in the next 100 years dropsto around 1.4ºC (2.5 degrees Fahrenheit). Several scientists, ranging fromthose in the service of the British government (whose radical position onglobal warming resulted in riots last summer), to those in libertarian thinktanks, have replicated this calculation and come up with the same answer.

That’s not a large number, and it is disproportionately distributed into awarming of the coldest winter temperatures. But, even so, what would Kyotodo about it?

The answer is, nothing.

At least nothing that could have any discernible impact on how climateinfluences our lives. Clinton administration scientists answered this onefor us: If all of the nations did what they said they would do under Kyoto,the net amount of warming reduced by the year 2100 would be 0.14ºC. That’s6.4 percent of the average warming of those U.N. models.

How much does it cost? Estimates range from 1 percent to 3.5 percent of GDPperyear. The larger figure assumes very little “emissions trading” betweennations, where we could take credit for emissions prevented in, say, Africa,by giving them less emissive technology. Incidentally, our European friendsdon’t want us to make up the majority of our emissions by doing this humanething. The cost figure also looms large if we can’t “sequester” ouremissions in trees and soils, and are instead forced to raise energy prices.Again, our European allies won’t let that happen, either. So the 3percent‐​GDP range is the more likely figure.

If anyone wants to see a microcosm of what Kyoto would bring, look nofurther than California, except that the lack of energy must also beexacerbated by excessive energy taxes.

These numbers are well known to the Bush Administration—which needs to getthem out in public—and to the environmental press, which never mentionsthem.

Think of them in terms of “insurance,” and substitute “your house” for GDP.According to Kyoto, you would pay 3 percent of the value of your property,each and every year. And should your house burn down, Kyoto will reward youwith 6.3 percent of its total value. Is that all you get for your money?

It’s worse than this. Kyoto would probably wreak great harm on theenvironment. It is well known that the more affluent a society is, the moreit protects the environment. Among other things, people have more capitalto invest in the development of efficient technology. Taking this capitalaway in the form of the onerous energy taxes required to promulgate Kyotohas the additional pernicious effect of giving our government a virtuallylimitless fund to squander, when the investing should be left up toindividuals. I have personally lost thousands of dollars on Ballard PowerSystems, a fuel‐​cell company, and I drive a gas‐​electric Honda Insight (agreat car that really does get 70 mpg). But it is not your responsibility tobuy stock or cars for me or anyone else.

Finally, Kyoto is irrelevant. History teaches us that we cannot anticipatethe technological changes of the next 100 years, but we can be sure thatwhat gives us power, and how we move things, will be very different thanwhat runs us today. Compare horse‐​drawn 1900 to Internet‐​driven 2000 for anexample. I don’t know what will charge the world of 2100, but I doubt thatit will produce a lot of greenhouse emissions, whether or not they areharmful.

Do the math. Kyoto was a bad deal, whether or not you care about globalwarming. And it’s a good deal that finally there is a world leader with thecourage to tell the truth.