What could be admirable than hundreds of nations gathering together and making personal sacrifices in order to save the planet? The only thing that the Kyoto Protocol requires of us is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 7% below 1990 levels, thereby preventing our planet from "overheating." But if we take a realistic perspective on the Kyoto Protocol, it is difficult to condone. The Kyoto Protocol is a set of extremely costly measures that only suggest a dubious solution to a still unproven problem.
Though children are taught it as gospel, the threat of global warming is not scientifically credible. At the very most, informed scientists agree that global mean temperature has probably increased over the past century. There is no evidence that this temperature increase is or will be significant. In fact, according to James Hansen (Natural Science, 2003), even if nothing were done to restrict greenhouse gases, the global temperature is unlikely to rise by more than 1.5 F over the next 50 years, a change which he says mankind could easily adapt to. More importantly, how much of global warming is man-caused? Acknowledged scientists argue that solar forcing signals and other non-human factors could conceivably account for any global warming we have so far detected. And yet the Kyoto Protocol calls for a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions all over the world.
This reduction would have costly effects for the U.S. economy. At the moment, about 70% of U.S. energy comes in the form of carbon-based fuel. To comply with the Kyoto Protocol, America would have to decrease current fossil fuel consumption by 43%, which would be crippling to the economy. Reducing carbon-based energy to 7% below 1990 levels is much less difficult for European countries like Germany and the UK, which, unlike America experienced a recession during the last decade. The energy America would be required to give up under the Kyoto Protocol is essential for electricity, heating, air conditioning, food, transportation, and various services. In the words of Marlo Lewis from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “It’s like food. It doesn’t form a large part of the overall GDP but it’s the basis of everything.” By making fossil-fuel based energy much more expensive, adhering to the Kyoto Protocol would devastate employment in major U.S. industries while gouging working families and poor people. Moreover, new regulatory schemes would handicap small businesses, enrich politically favored corporations, and expand the bureaucratic sector. In fact, the Energy Information Administration predicts that by 2010 this could result in a cost of $400 billion per year to the American economy.
This is an exorbitant price to pay for a program that may not achieve anything. According to Thomas Wigley, a Senior Scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, if every nation met its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, the result would be a .07C climate change at best, a change so minute that it can’t even be reliably measured by ground-based thermometers. The Kyoto Protocol aspires to an eventual 60% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. Because developing countries like India and China are not required to adhere to these standards, the burden of reduction would lay heavily upon developed countries such as the UK or the US. These countries would have to produce effectively no greenhouse gases at all by 2050 in order to bring about even a measurable temperature reduction. To have the smallest effect on global warming, we would have to initiate, in Lewis’s words, a global depression.
It is important to research possible alternative sources of energy but there is no reason to think that we can find a reasonable substitute for carbon-based fuel. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change published a recent report in which it claims that even “the most optimistic assumptions about the future cost and performance of energy technologies” do not suggest that we can reduce our carbon emissions and still meet the demands of a modern economy. We can’t find an alternative energy source to supply current energy demands, let alone those of 2050, which are predicted to be three times as large. Thus, if we placed a carbon cap right now, we would in effect be limiting energy; we would have to ration energy. We would have to wreck the global economy for the sake of a treaty which, by the admission of its own advocates, does next to nothing to avert global warming. If we really want to face the challenges of global warming, the answer is not to stifle and choke the economy, but instead to increase technological research. We have to make sure that we are as resilient as possible to global changes. There is no reason to think that global warming will be a global calamity -— some places will benefit, some places will not. But the Kyoto Protocol is helpless to do anything. In the 1890s, horses were estimated to produce 45 lbs of waste at a time, leading to diseases such as cephalitus. Without crippling the economy, a solution was found to this problem -– the automobile. When responding to whatever threat global warming may present, we must have faith in the ability of technological progress to provide a solution. Starving ourselves and developing nations is certainly not the way out of a threat we still know so little about.
Katerina Apostolides is a sophomore in Silliman College.