December 13, 2005

December 13, 2005 | Commentary on

Keeping Our Cool

You can do a lot of things when December rolls around and temperatures plunge. But would you hold an international conference on global warming?

The United Nations did. It recently hosted a gathering of all the countries that have signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty aimed at preventing global warming. Some 10,000 people traveled to Montreal for the conference. It was predictably cold outside, but there was plenty of hot rhetoric indoors. Unfortunately for the delegates, the speakers never could quite agree what we're up against.

While most Kyoto enthusiasts have long argued the planet is getting warmer, a recent report in the journal Nature hints that a new ice age may be coming. The report says the ocean current that keeps Europe warm may be shifting, which could make the continent cooler.

But no matter what, the worrywarts have the future covered. Steven Guilbeault of Greenpeace explained, "Global warming can mean colder, it can mean drier, it can mean wetter, that's what we're dealing with." No wonder humanity is having trouble addressing the problems -- we can't even decide what the problems are.

However, activists can agree on who's to blame: The United States, of course.

Another Greenpeace spokesman, Bill Hare, told reporters, "When you walk around the conference hall here, delegates are saying there are lots of issues on the agenda, but there's only one real problem, and that's the United States."

It makes a nice soundbite and plays to the anti-American crowd, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, the U.S. refused to ratify Kyoto. President Clinton never even submitted the treaty to the Senate, perhaps because senators had already voted 95-0 to reject any pact that would reduce economic growth -- something Kyoto certainly would do. President Bush eventually put the treaty out of its misery in 2001.

But that hasn't kept Washington from leading a serious international effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Just last summer, the U.S. announced the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate Change. This group includes Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and the United States. The State Department says the group will "cooperate on the development, diffusion, deployment and transfer of longer-term transformational energy technologies that will promote economic growth while enabling significant reductions in greenhouse gas intensities."

That's critical for two reasons. First, because China and India are among the world's biggest polluters, any treaty that aims to reduce pollution is going to have to include them. Yet both were exempt from Kyoto.

Second, any attempt to control global warming will fail unless it also encourages global economic growth. As British Prime Minister Tony Blair put it in September, "the blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge."

Most European Union countries that signed the treaty are seeing carbon dioxide emissions increase and realize they have no way to meet their obligations under Kyoto. Some, including host nation Canada, have seen emissions climb more quickly than they are in the United States.

That doesn't seem to bother some participants. "We need much deeper cuts beyond 2012," the European Union Commission's director general for the environment said after the conference ended. But most European countries are already failing to live up to Kyoto. How could they make deeper cuts than the ones they're not making now? Blair's approach, and the one the U.S. advocates, is the correct one. We can do good by doing well.

A certain amount of humility is in order here. With all our scientific advances, we can barely predict what the weather will be tomorrow, let alone forecast what will happen 50 years from now.

What we do know is that as a country becomes more affluent, it becomes cleaner. So the best way to protect the earth is to skip the big U.N. conferences -- which certainly produce a concentrated mass of hot air -- and focus on keeping the global economy hot.

Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
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