NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 17, 2007

The global-warming debate's great unmentionable is this: We lack the technology to get from here to there.  Just because politicians like Arnold Schwarzenegger want to cut emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 doesn't mean it can happen.  At best, we might curb the growth of emissions, says columnist Robert J. Samuelson.

Consider a 2006 study from the International Energy Agency (IEA):

  • Using present policies, it projected that emissions of carbon dioxide (a main greenhouse gas) would more than double by 2050; developing countries would account for almost 70 percent of the increase.
  • The IEA then simulated an aggressive, global program to cut emissions that is based on the best available technologies: more solar, wind and biomass energy; more efficient cars, appliances and buildings; more nuclear energy.
  • Under this admitted fantasy, global emissions in 2050 would still slightly exceed 2003 levels.

Even that fantasy would be a stretch.  In the United States, it would take massive regulations, higher energy taxes or both. Democracies don't easily adopt painful measures in the present to avert possible future problems.  Examples abound:

  • Since the 1973 Arab oil embargo, we've been on notice to limit dependence on insecure foreign oil; we've done little.
  • In 1973, imports were 35 percent of U.S. oil use; in 2006, they were 60 percent.
  • For decades we've known of the huge retirement costs of baby boomers; little has been done there either.

Source: Robert J. Samuelson, "Global Warming Simplicities," Washington Post, August 15, 2007.

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