What the Clinton Administration Won't Tell You about the Costs of Global Warming Commitments

Commentary by H. Sterling Burnett

Timothy Wirth, the Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, is staging a series of events to drum up support for the Clinton Administration's recent commitment to an internationally binding agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions. These "Town Hall" meetings resemble environmental religious revivals more than anything else.

The meetings aren't being held to educate the public about either the very serious scientific debate concerning the predicted onset --and social and economic implications -- of global climate change or the very real costs stemming from the proposed treaty. Rather they are intended to get Americans to repent of their wasteful, carbon-dioxide spewing ways before they destroy the planet. According to some environmentalists, the end is near.

This is consistent with views Wirth expressed in 1990 when he was a U.S. senator that "we've got to ride the global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing - in terms of economic policy and environmental policy." Thus, these events have little to do with the truth; they are part of a crusade to do the "right thing" socially and economically.

What Wirth and the Clinton Administration don't advertise is the fact that the proposed treaty commitments would seriously harm American industries and workers, and cause big increases in the cost of living-and contribute little to reducing global warming, if it really is occurring (which is by no means clear).

Here are some facts that Undersecretary Wirth doesn't discuss: 1) a DRI/McGraw Hill study projects that over the next 14 years more than 500,000 Americans annually would lose their jobs if proposed climate change commitments were implemented; 2) the study also estimated that the government would have to increase gas 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 10 percent; 3) a Constad Research study estimated that the changes would kill off 1.6 million jobs over the next nine years and put another 3.5 million or so "at risk," primarily in Texas, California, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Louisiana; 4) Some analysts estimate that meeting the proposed commitments would reduce U.S. gross domestic product by $200 billion annually.

In addition, the price of food and transportation would rise dramatically. These policies hurt the poor and least advantaged the most, because they spend a higher proportion of their incomes on food and energy.

Australia and other countries have rejected the call for an enforceable treaty by 1997 due to the potential costs and skepticism concerning the evidence for and probable effects of global warming.

The enormous costs might be justified if the environment would substantially benefit, but it wouldn't. That's because developing countries, which already produce more than half of the world's human-caused greenhouse gases, will not be bound by it. According to the International Energy Agency, as much as 85 percent of the projected increase in carbon dioxide emissions will come from countries that are exempted from the proposed treaties (China, India, South Korea, etc.). By 2025, China alone will emit more carbon dioxide than the current combined total of the United States, Japan and Canada. Thus, the U.S. and other developed countries would suffer unprecedented economic harm and the environment would not improve.

Agreeing to unilateral binding CO2 reductions would give American businesses one more reason to build new plants or move old production facilities overseas. This would entail a loss of jobs in both the service and high-wage manufacturing industries. It would be foolish, without a very good cause, to reduce U.S. competitiveness and encourage the flight of America's industrial base to foreign countries.

These results have not gone unnoticed even within President Clinton's own party. In a letter to the president, six Democratic senators indicated that any climate change treaty that either unfairly penalized the United States in relation to its developing trading partners or that was based on controversial science without an adequate assessment of the economic and social consequences would not achieve the necessary two-thirds vote in the Senate. In the end, common sense dictates that the U.S. should not act before further evidence concerning the existence and possible impact of global warming is in.

This appeared in the Viewpoints section of The Dallas Morning News, December 6, 1996.