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With Halloween fast approaching, the Senate appears to be all tricks and no treats. Topping the list is the Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) proposal to cap carbon dioxide emissions. The “Climate Stewardship Act,” which was open for debate in the Senate on Thursday, October 29, seeks to address concerns about global warming. The problem is, the science behind global warming theory is far from complete, and the scientific community continues to identify uncertainties and problems with existing theories about global warming. On the other hand, the costs of measures such as the Lieberman-McCain proposal and the Kyoto Protocol are not inconsequential; passing such proposals is sure to be a trick, not a treat, for all consumers.
The Lieberman-McCain bill is an attempt to push the United States closer to implementing the Kyoto Protocol, a global warming treaty that seeks to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases primarily by reducing the use of fossil fuels. The Climate Stewardship Act takes a similar approach, seeking to cap emissions at 2000 levels from 2010 to 2015 (Phase I) and capping emissions at 1990 levels beginning in 2016 (Phase II). Perhaps the biggest trick in the legislation will be a proposal to eliminate Phase II and its more severe cutbacks in energy emissions. But with the administrative and enforcement mechanisms already established in Phase I, how likely is it that environmentalists and future Congresses will resist the urge to pass future legislation to implement Phase II?
Like any good horror story, proponents of global warming spin fantastic tales of pestilence and natural disaster. Mosquitoes will spread malaria and other diseases far beyond the tropics, ice caps will melt, raising sea levels and flooding coastal cities. Even forest fires are attributed to global warming, with changing weather patterns and drought responsible for conditions leading to firestorms. These tragedies are said to be induced by mankind, whose industrial activities—especially burning fossil fuels—have triggered a global disaster. And like most good stories, these tales begin with a small element of truth that strengthens their plausibility.
It is true, for example, that global temperatures have risen over the past century, and ice sheets have been melting at the poles. But correlating these events with a cataclysmic disaster unleashed by man is a far more difficult stretch. The scariest predictions are based on computer models or simulations of future climate trend. Real world data, however, do not corroborate these nightmare scenarios.
Real temperature records from satellites and weather balloons show no increasing temperatures in recent years. In fact, most of the modest increase that has occurred took place before 1940 and before the increase in manmade emissions of carbon dioxide. Similarly, scientists are skeptical of linking melting ice shelves or increased disease to global warming. Other factors are at play; for example, some glaciers are shrinking, but others are growing. And scientists note that mosquito-borne diseases are not “tropical” diseases, and outbreaks have more to do with effective public health care policies than changes in climate.
Overall, the theory of climate change is far from settled, and there is not a consensus in the scientific community on the issue. Scientists such as Sallie Baliunas, for example, attribute the Earth’s warming and cooling throughout its history to changes in solar activity and note that 20th century temperatures are not excessive when put into historical perspective. On top of this collection of historical evidence, scientists are also skeptical of the ability of policies such as the Climate Stewardship Act or the Kyoto Protocol to actually have any impact on global climate. Even those who support the notion of global warming suggest that far more stringent cuts would be required to have any effect.
Unfortunately, the real fright with plans such as the Lieberman-McCain proposal and the Kyoto protocol is the burden placed on consumers. Ultimately, these measures ration energy, an input to almost all goods and services and something we use to heat and cool our homes, to light our dinner tables, and to make our commutes to work and school. Like any rationing plan, it will entail either price hikes or restrictions on energy use. The Energy Information Administration estimates that the Lieberman-McCain proposal would reduce the economy by $106 billion, and the Kyoto Protocol would cost the economy up to $400 billion annually.
The Europeans, staunch supporters of the Kyoto Protocol, are beginning to realize that compliance will be difficult and costly. A new study cited in the Wall Street Journal finds that Europe will most likely fall short of meeting its reductions; it also finds that European nations may be rethinking their commitment to providing aid to developing nations to implement greenhouse gas reduction programs.
In addition, Europe is now hearing from global warming skeptics besides the United States. Yuri Izrael a science adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin noted, “All the scientific evidence seems to support the same general conclusions, that the Kyoto Protocol is overly expensive, ineffective, and based on bad science.”
With the science still under debate and uncertainties left to resolve, it is premature to adopt stringent measures that will impose significant costs on the American economy and raise prices for consumers. It would be a treat for all consumers if the Senate rejected this costly legislation.