NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Global Warming Treaty Creates A Zero-Sum Economy

May 6, 1999

A zero-sum game is one in which a gain for one person only comes at a loss for another. The theory that economics is a zero-sum game can be expressed using the slice-of-the-pie analogy: a bigger piece for one requires a smaller slice for the rest. In fact, capitalism has shown that the pie can be enlarged and one man's gain can mean bigger portions for all.

Economist George Gilder warns that the global warming treaty is an example of zero-sum ecology. Thus the cut-backs in energy use mandated by the Kyoto treaty "would inflict zero-sum triage on the lives and opportunities of billions of poor people clinging to the bottom rungs of the economic ladder," he writes.

He thinks the theory that humans are causing potentially disastrous global warming and must forgo economic growth is irrational -- like unfounded scares about DDT, nuclear power, acid rain, radon, chlorofluorocarbons, PCBs, Alar, power lines and cellular phones.

  • A 3,000-year record of thermally dependent isotope patterns in fossil sediments demonstrates that current temperatures are about average, or possibly cooler than average -- a conclusion confirmed by the known historical record.
  • During previous centuries, temperatures were as much as four degrees Fahrenheit higher than today.
  • A thousand years ago, temperatures were two degrees warmer than today.
  • Gilder points out that a 0.036 percent rise in solar intensity over the past decade unleashed an energy impact on the earth 70 times larger than that of all human activity put together.

He predicts that telling China and India they cannot even match current Western use of fuels, fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals will lead eventually to war.

If the economic pie is prevented from growing larger, only conquest can give the citizens of the victorious country a bigger share.

Source: George Gilder (Gilder Technology Report and the Discovery Institute), "Zero-Sum Folly, From Kyoto to Kosovo," Wall Street Journal, May 6, 1999.


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