Economic Poison Pill, Environmental Placebo

Commentary by Pete du Pont

For a global agreement, there is really very little "global" to the treaty proposal agreed to in Kyoto. Out of 160 nations party to the agreement, 130 will not have to reduce their energy use.

But the U.S. and most developed nations will have to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases between five percent and eight percent (depending on the nation) below 1990 levels between the years 2008 and 2012, according to the treaty proposal.

In the words of one commentator, the agreement amounts to "unilateral economic disarmament" for the United States. It means rationing energy, which every credible study sees as a recipe for severe economic decline. For instance, a DRI/McGraw-Hill study projects that over the next 14 years more than 500,000 Americans annually would lose their jobs, the government would have to increase gasoline prices by more than 60 cents a gallon and double the price of heating oil just to hold carbon emissions at 1990 levels - and more than double those increases to reduce emissions another ten percent. Other studies have estimated that meeting the proposed commitments would reduce U.S. gross domestic product by $200 billion annually.

But here is the strangest part: even if we wreck the economy by shutting down practically everything, many climate change experts doubt that it will make much difference. Indeed, in a recent poll, more than 70 percent of state climatologists agreed that carbon dioxide levels would continue to rise regardless of human actions to curb emissions.

Even if immediate action could prevent a possible future climate catastrophe, the Kyoto agreement would not do the job. Developing countries, responsible for as much as 85 percent of the projected increase in carbon dioxide emissions, are not required to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. By 2025 China, already the second largest emitter of CO2, will produce more than the U.S., Japan, and Canada combined.

Indeed, many aggressive environmentalists, including the administration's recently resigned lead negotiator, Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Timothy Wirth, have emphasized that the U.S. would have to cut greenhouse gas emissions (and thus reduce energy use) by 70 percent to 80 percent from 1990 levels to slow purported global warming. And what about China and the other developing nations? The radicals have conveniently sidestepped that question by saying we'll get around to those nations sometime.

Nor will an energy magic bullet save the day. For more than 20 years recipients of government subsidies for renewable energy have claimed their fuel technologies would become competitive with just a few billion more dollars. They have failed to meet these promises in the past and there is no reason to expect that renewable energy sources will be competitive in the future. Energy conservation measures have not reduced energy use. The money saved from conservation measures has largely been used in energy consuming activities.

If neither renewable energy nor energy conservation are magic bullets, then how might the Clinton/Gore administration gain the mandated emissions reductions? President Clinton has said he will not raise taxes to reduce emissions. Even if he doesn't tax fuel directly, emissions caps sold on the open market are just a back door form of taxation. All the costs the energy producers incur to purchase these caps are passed on to the consumer.

The president could demand increased fuel efficiency for motor vehicles, perhaps banning large vehicles and forcing soccer moms and large families into still smaller, less safe vehicles. But how many men, women and children should have to die for a dubious defense against global warming?

So why are we asked to accept a climate change treaty that won't have appreciable effect on the climate but that will seriously damage the economy? The answer seems to be politics. It appears that President Clinton is trying to insure that his loyal vice president maintains his standing in the environmental community. All of the pain from putting provisions of the treaty into effect conveniently is delayed until 2008 -- after a possible second Al Gore term as president. I can see Gore telling his successor, "Turn out the lights, we've got to meet our emissions goals," as he hands over the keys to the White House.

Until December 8th, gridlock ruled at the global warming conference. Enter Al Gore to save the day. After Gore directed the U.S. negotiating team to be more "flexible," our country's bargaining position collapsed and we gave away the store. For the Clinton administration, any agreement was better than no agreement at all. Let us hope the American public and the U.S. Senate see through the sham and just say no to Kyoto.