- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 27, 2005

President Bush appears to have successfully kept global warming off the front burner during his trip to Europe, but that isn’t likely to stop critics from complaining that America’s refusal to endorse the 1997 Kyoto Protocol remains a unilateralist blot on the U.S. record.

But even Bill Clinton had the good sense not to submit his own vice president’s handiwork to a Democratic-controlled Congress, where it would have suffered a humiliating thumbs-down. And Mr. Bush is right to remain stubbornly opposed.

One reason the Europeans didn’t make a bigger public huff over the matter may have been growing recognition there that Kyoto, which requires reducing industrial carbon-dioxide emissions to pre-1990 levels, is both unrealistic and fantastically expensive — in return for, at best, a negligible cut in the manmade warming they claim is happening.

At home, hard-core environmentalists have already turned their attention away from Washington to the states. Eight Northeastern states, pressed by the environmental lobby, are seeking caps on emissions by coal-burning Midwestern utilities. And California is trying to impose a first-ever CO2 limit on autos, which would require a sharp increase in fuel efficiency.

Mr. Bush has argued for improving energy efficiency to reduce energy needs and, consequently, carbon emissions.

But energy efficiency may be the wrong target, as Peter W. Huber, a Manhattan Institute technology specialist, and Mark P. Mills, a Digital Power Capital physicist and founding partner, point out in a provocative new book, “The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy” (Basic Books).

Not that energy efficiency is a bad thing. But it shouldn’t be confused with using less energy, note Mr. Huber and Mr. Mills. The United States has halved energy use per unit of output since 1950. Total energy consumption, however, has risen threefold. The reason: “[E]fficiency fails to curb demand because it lets more people do more, and do it faster — and more/more/faster invariably swamps all the efficiency gains.”

For example, as autos have become more fuel-efficient, people have responded by driving more — and by using the “saved” energy in other ways. The digital revolution that our chief energy scold, Al Gore, claims to have “invented” now sucks up 8 percent to 13 percent of total electricity use, by the reckoning of Mr. Huber and Mr. Mills. Laser technology requires huge electricity supplies, but delivers amazing lifesaving results.

Yes, new and better energy forms one day will be invented. But there is no crisis: oil reserves actually have been rising worldwide as exploration and drilling technology have improved. Then there is the 1,000-year petroleum supply available from yet untapped Canadian oil shale and a 2,000-year global coal supply, which can be made to burn much more cleanly.

So far the only meaningful alternative to fossil fuels is nuclear power which the environmental left hates even more than oil. Even many environmental groups find themselves ironically opposing wind farms, which kill huge numbers of migrating birds as well as blotting favorite landscapes.

Mr. Huber and Mr. Mills say environmental quality gains will come mostly from incremental but steady gains in fossil fuel technology, including the accelerating digitization of the automobile drivetrain.

Global warming? Messrs. Huber and Mills suggest if the enviros were serious they would “part company with Hollywood and reach some sensible accommodation with the nuclear industry in case their global warming projections turn out to be right.”

You might disagree with that, but forget about turning back the clock to a simpler, pre-carbon, pre-automobile era. The only way to cut back energy use is to become less efficient. Hard-core environmentalists might favor that idea, but it runs deeply against the grain of human nature. “We will never stop craving more,” say Mr. Huber and Mr. Mills, “nor should we ever wish to.” Energy is what brings light out of dark, civilization out of disorder, prosperity out of poverty.

Tom Bray is a Detroit News columnist.

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