- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2001

President George Bush has decided to abandon mandatory controls on emissions of carbon dioxide and stick with his campaign promise to oppose the Kyoto climate accord. This has raised hysterical outcries from environmental activists and anguished pleas from assorted European politicians.

However, backing for his position has come from an unexpected quarter. Well before his announcement, many supporters of the Global Climate Treaty had already expressed doubts about the targets and timetables of the emission limits demanded by the Kyoto Protocol. These critics included Resources for the Future, the Pew Center for Global Climate Change, and other mainstream environmental organizations. And while extremists were lambasting the White House, David Victor of the Council of Foreign Relations, in a New York Times op-ed, termed the Protocol “hopelessly unrealistic.”

We agree; cutting CO2, and thereby energy consumption, by between 30 percent and 40 percent within a decade is practically unachievable. But beyond this, Kyoto is also ineffective. Enforcing its targets would reduce global temperature in 2050 by only 0.05 degrees C, a virtually undetectable amount. Finally, Kyoto is politically unacceptable. President Bush, in opposing Kyoto as unfair to the United States and economically destructive especially to low-income groups is merely echoing the bipartisan Byrd-Hagel resolution that passed the Senate in 1997 by a vote of 95-0.

But is Kyoto really dead? Reportedly, the White House has sought legal advice from the State Department on whether a simple letter would suffice to nullify the U.S. signature on the as yet unratified Protocol. There are compelling reasons to kill the Protocol and make sure it stays dead.

Kyoto´s environmental critics question merely the feasibility of achieving its targets but want to keep the Kyoto structure alive so more realistic targets and timetables can be negotiated. They apparently still believe there is a “scientific consensus” on global warming. But a National Academy report last year reaffirmed that, contrary to theory, weather satellite data show little if any current warming of the global atmosphere.

Further, the unspoken assumption that a (hypothetical) global warming would be damaging is not supported by competent economists. Their published studies conclude that GNP would increase, with agriculture and forestry benefiting the most. The real threat comes from a possible global cooling not a warming.

It is comforting, therefore, to learn from President Bush´s letter of March 13, addressed to four senators opposed to Kyoto, that he does not concur with the Clinton-Gore position that the science of global warming is “settled” and “compelling.” Research into the causes of climate change must and will continue. But it does not require a major government program to wean us away from fossil fuels. Energy conservation, in many cases, makes good economic sense. And as fuels become depleted and scarce, their price is bound to rise, thereby making other forms of energy more competitive. Market forces will eventually phase out fuels at least cost to society.


S. Fred Singer is professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and a former director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service. He is the author of “Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming´s Unfinished Debate,” published by The Independent Institute (Oakland, Calif., 1999).


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