- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 24, 2005

Reality keeps getting in the way of those who would use the global warming threat to end the fossil fuel age.

Ten days ago a federal judge in New Jersey dismissed a lawsuit by eight states, including California, New York, New Jersey and Wisconsin, demanding that power producers be subjected to caps on emissions of carbon dioxide. They had tried to argue that excess CO2 from power plants causes climate changes that potentially harm their citizens.

The judge, Loretta Preska, wisely didn’t take a position on global warming. She merely noted she lacked constitutional authority to decide policy questions. It’s up to the legislative and executive branches of government to decide whether global warming is indeed a threat to humanity, and, if so, what to do about it. Alas for global-warming enthusiasts, however, there appears little appetite in Washington to do so.

Former Vice President Al Gore’s masterwork, the 1997 Kyoto agreement calling for a rollback of CO2 emissions to pre-1990 levels, remains a dead letter in the U.S. Senate. Though Sen. Pete Domenici, New Mexico Republican, last week added his voice to the call for legislation to regulate CO2 emissions, there is growing recognition in Washington and beyond that such regulations would yield little benefit for stupendous costs.

At an unofficial “summit” sponsored by Bill Clinton two weeks ago to discuss global issues, Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, once a wholehearted supporter of the Kyoto treaty, conceded his thinking has changed somewhat. “The truth is that no country is going to cut its growth or consumption in the light of a long-term environmental problem,” he was quoted by Greenwire, an environmental news service.

Mr. Blair appears to be coming around to President George Bush’s insistence that the best way to deal with this is to subsidize development of new energy technologies, such as hydrogen. But an even better strategy is to leave new technology to the marketplace — and focus on adapting to changes as they materialize, rather than chase every phantom risk suggested by alarmists.

For example, remove barriers to developing genetically engineered crops that can better withstand the slight temperature increases predicted. If oil indeed is running out, let prices rise, thus discouraging consumption and encouraging new technologies, rather than demand price controls (as many opportunistic politicians now do in the face of the spike in gasoline prices). And stop subsidizing flood insurance that encourages settlement in low-lying areas like New Orleans — or at least build better levees.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported an environmental lawsuit in the 1970s killed a Corps of Engineers plan to greatly strengthen the storm surge barriers on Lake Pontchartrain and eastern New Orleans — exactly the sites of the catastrophic flooding in that city, killing nearly 800 citizens.

The global-warming specter makes a particularly handy club with which the anti-automobile set can bash Detroit. But one lessons of Katrina was that those who owned automobiles generally escaped the storm’s worst fury. Evacuation of the Texas coast by car and bus allowed even more to escape Rita.

The automobile is a lifesaver, not just a convenience. It also is a key component of the nation’s prosperity. The most important element of a strategy of adaptation is to ensure society has the wealth to deal with threats as they arise. What country besides “auto-dependent” America has the wealth to even think about rebuilding a city like New Orleans?

Tom Bray is a Detroit News columnist.

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