Column: No to Kyoto

By David Johnson

Last week the Kyoto Protocol, a multinational pact to reduce greenhouse gasses, went into effect. Under its guidelines, signatory nations promise to reduce most greenhouse gas emissions to pre-1990 levels, based on the theory that the emission and presence of these gases is responsible for global warming. While most news coverage consisted mostly of self-righteous back patting of our friends across the pond, an interesting story caught my attention. The citizens of the tiny Pacific island of Tuvalu face a nightmarish scenario – global warming is causing sea levels near the island to rise at a blistering 0.08 inches per year; nations that held out on Kyoto, such as the United States and Australia, are ignoring the plight of Tuvaluans by not taking part in emissions reduction.

Even though I suppose it’s insensitive of us to sit idly by while Tuvalu (average elevation: 6.5 feet) plummets into the ocean depths 975 years from now, the Kyoto Protocol is beyond worthless – its negligible impact on our climate will be overshadowed by its massive economic cost.

Kyoto is premised on the untenable belief that rising carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations, while almost definitely a result of human activity, are responsible for rising global temperatures. Yet this theory can’t explain the following inconsistencies – why, during the last ice age, were atmospheric C02 concentrations 15 times higher than they are now? Why, if CO2 concentrations increased by 30 percent since the onset of industrialization, have average global temperatures risen fractions of degrees? Why did temperatures decline following World War II, a period of intense worldwide growth in industry? Furthermore, debate of climate change (Kyoto included) never includes discussion of the most abundant greenhouse gas – water vapor. This omission is inexcusable given that water vapor concentration, as affected by solar cycles, has the strongest correlation with global climate change. Clearly, the premise of Kyoto, and most everything we’ve been taught, is sketchy at best. While I don’t claim, or intend to use an op-ed to prove, that CO2 levels have no correlation to global temperature, I do maintain that trashing our economy based on what may or may not be a problem in the future isn’t wise.

Implementing Kyoto will cost the world economy over a trillion dollars annually, putting millions out of work. True liberal (but skeptical environmentalist) Bjorn Lomborg calculates a shocking mix-up of liberal priorities: the amount of money lost implementing just one year of Kyoto could be spent providing every human being with potable water.

Here at home, we face a significant challenge in that most everything we’ve been taught about climate change – from our classrooms to our news media – is at best questionable and at worst wrong. Prominent environmentalist and Stanford University professor Stephen Schneider explained to Discover magazine that the environmentalist movement needs “broad support,” achieved with “loads of media coverage.” He went on, saying environmentalists must “offer up scary scenarios, make simplified statements and make little mention of any doubts.” After all, we must “decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.”

Based on these statements, one could argue in his defense that he was simply lying to his interviewer, but I’m inclined to believe him. How many times in news stories or in class have we been told that human industry is causing the imminent catastrophe of global warming as a matter of fact?

Most people of our generation consider themselves environmentalists and thus support any initiative that labels itself “good for the environment.” Yet no one who cares a shred for science and human welfare could possibly support a misguided measure such as the Kyoto Protocol. Thankfully, our current government (both the Bush administration and the Senate) are wise enough to avoid Kyoto like the plague, but our generation must be pragmatic as we take over the reigns of public policy.