President Bush has announced that our nation is addicted to oil, but that isn’t true at all. I am addicted to cigarettes, I am not addicted to water. Yet if I had to choose between the two, I’ll pick water every time — I need it to survive.
We need energy to survive, and for now that means we need dirty fuels like oil and coal. We fear that our use of fossil fuels changes the climate, and the result is a debate between societal survival and, well, societal survival.
When it comes to global warming, it is both useless and unnecessary to quibble about disputed facts, such as whether human activity is a significant factor. For the purposes of this column, I will simply accept all of the assumptions of the Green Movement. Global warming is real, and we are a significant cause of the problem. (Hell, if Pat Robertson can buy into it, why can’t I?)
So what does man-made global warming mean for us? We will face warmer weather, more droughts, higher sea levels, more precipitation, et cetera. Under the more extreme scenarios, some parts of the planet would become uninhabitable — although it is probably safe to imagine that some uninhabitable areas would become more livable, especially up North.
Generally, though, we can assume that human life will be affected negatively by the warming trend. Our way of living will dramatically change.
Forget New England
The Green Movement wants to do something about that. The argument basically goes like this: if we suffer now by dramatically changing the way we live, then maybe we can avoid suffering later by dramatically changing the way we live.
Put that way, it doesn’t sound like a winning proposition. But will we really suffer now because we act in a fashion dramatic enough to avoid climate change? The beginning of the answer lies with the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 international treaty that would require the U.S. and several other industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gases — especially the ubiquitous carbon dioxide — by meeting emissions targets.
What exactly would it mean to meet the Kyoto targets? Let’s look at the numbers. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the United States generated 5,802 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 in 2003. Naturally, this number has grown over the years as our economy has expanded. In 1990 we emitted just 4,969 MMT of carbon dioxide. If we had ratified the Kyoto treaty, we would have committed to cut emissions to levels 7% below that 1990 level — or to about 4,620 MMT.
Can we cut emissions by that much? Sure we can. I’m looking at the Energy Information Administration’s table of all 50 states’ levels of carbon dioxide emissions. If we shut down all industry and electric generation in the 14 “Blue” States (the ones that went for John Kerry in 2004) east of the Mississippi River, then seize all automobiles, airplanes, and private land there, we would slightly overshoot the Kyoto goals.
Of course, I’m being somewhat ridiculous here (besides, that solution didn’t work when they tried it in Cambodia). So let’s try to spread the burden of Kyoto compliance around. In 2003, gasoline use in the U.S. accounted for 1,141 MMT or 20 percent of our total carbon dioxide emissions. If Congress acts today to outlaw the use of gasoline for all uses — automobiles, lawn-mowers, generators, et cetera — we’d be within just 40 million metric tons of reaching our Kyoto goals. And that’s great, unless you like being able to drive, or having food brought to your grocery store, or having ambulances and fire trucks that can respond to emergencies.
It is true that we don’t have to meet the Kyoto goals tomorrow — but we would have to meet them by 2008, which is not much better if you think about it. Even 2018 would not be much better. We are a growing population that needs more energy every year to sustain life and comfort.
This is not a simple case of adjusting your thermostat by a few degrees, driving fewer miles this summer, or even buying a hybrid. Even gradual Kyoto compliance would require much more drastic action than that. You would have to stop heating and cooling your office — perhaps your home as well. You would have to take the bicycles on your family vacation this summer — not on top of your car, but instead of your car. Forget about using that microwave — and probably best to turn off that power-sucking computer of yours as soon as you’re done reading this.
Given what it would take to comply, it’s no wonder that the signatories of the Kyoto treaty are mostly failing to meet the targets, many of them (notably Canada, but especially Spain) doing far worse than the non-signatory United States. Even the countries that have kept emissions in check since 1990 (such as Germany) have largely done so because of a one-time event — the collapse of Eastern Bloc industry at the end of the Cold War — and not through significant, sustained reductions in energy use.
‘Kyoto Is Not Enough’
But the picture is actually much bleaker than all that, because an important Green Movement tenet is that compliance with the Kyoto treaty is only the first baby step toward changing the warming trend. In November 2005, Professor Guy Brasseur, a Belgian scientist who runs the National Center for Atmospheric Research, addressed members of the European Parliament to inform them that “Kyoto is not enough.”
“If we stopped all CO2 emissions today, the temperature would continue to rise for between 200 and 300 years,” said Brasseur, who also noted that in order to stop human activity from raising the temperature, “we must reduce emissions not by five to ten percent, but by eighty to ninety percent.”
Someday, that may become possible: it will happen as soon as we develop a new, cost-efficient technology that satisfies our needs for energy with minimal pollution. But it’s very safe to say that such dramatic reductions are impossible any other way. Right now, even a 20 percent reduction in emissions would probably be more traumatic and destructive to our civilization than twenty more years of high emissions and global warming — especially considering that such a relatively large emissions reduction still would not put a dent in the problem. And that is to say nothing of the effect a 60 percent or a 90 percent reduction in CO2 emissions would have on how we live.
The sages of The New York Times editorial board deride the technological development approach as a “Hail Mary” solution, and of course blame the idea on President Bush (who is responsible for every other evil in the world, so why not?). But this is simple blindness to reality. For normal people who drive cars and refrigerate their food, the “Hail Mary” approach is infinitely more effective and preferable to the approach that represents a slow death for the world economy.
The Green Movement, unfortunately, opposes the cost-effective, emission-free technologies we have already developed — namely, hydroelectric and nuclear power.
The main point is that, accepting the premises of the Green Movement at face value, there is no reason to make society suffer, just to bring about minor reductions of emissions that won’t make a difference. If the climate keeps getting hotter, as the Greens predict, I’m certainly not going to be the one to sacrifice my air conditioning now so that maybe it cools off in a few centuries. My thermostat stays on 68.
David Freddoso, a native of Indiana, is a political reporter for Evans and Novak Inside Report.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire