Global Government in Retreat

Copley News Service, 12/06/2000

French President Jacques Chirac told participants at the failed Hague negotiations on global warming that the Kyoto Protocol, linchpin of the Third Way movement, was “the first component of an authentic global governance.” With the collapse of the Hague talks, let’s hope the tide is finally turning against Chirac and the Third Way global government crowd. The failure of the Kyoto negotiations in The Hague is important because that agreement was designed to put in place virtually a command-and-control system to manage energy and economic policy for the whole world. Since that system would be ruled by unelected international bureaucrats, it’s no wonder Chirac invested so much political capital in successfully implementing Kyoto.

Remember also that the Kyoto Protocol is Al Gore’s favorite exercise in international diplomacy, something he worked long and hard to stuff down the throats of the American public, even though the treaty would require Americans to reduce emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels. Independent studies show that would cost the United States up to $300 billion a year, drive up gas prices as much as 65 cents, and hurt minority and low-income households the most, consigning the poor to perpetual poverty.

The whole idea of Chirac-Gore globalism is to leave important decisions to a self-appointed elite of experts and opinion makers, not to the popular will of any nation. Too bad that elite doesn’t pay attention to sound science, either. Dr. Richard Courtney of the European Science and Environment Forum points out that “measured” global warming is confined to areas with sparse temperature data, and that U.N. estimates of climate change can’t distinguish man-made change from natural variability in climate.

“Whatever that is, it is not science,” Courtney says.

The Kyoto setback may be a leading indicator of a change in the wind, but it’s far from the only one. Kyoto lost credibility in the wake of fuel-price increases that hit both the United States and Europe this summer, with the United Kingdom disrupted by protests against outrageous gas prices. Since higher fuel costs are the key to any Kyoto-style accord, the political message was loud and clear: The hypothetical risks of global warming, resting on shaky science at best, just aren’t worth sacrificing a political career. This is particularly true in the developed nations since, as James Glassman points out, “There was no serious discussion (in The Hague) about developing nations – even though nine of the top 20 emitters of carbon dioxide (including No. 2 China and No. 6 India) are exempt from the treaty.”

Ironically the trend in Europe this year was toward tax cuts, not just in the United Kingdom (where the Blair government threw fuel tax protestors a very small bone by freezing rates) but in France, Germany, Italy and Russia. Tony Blair’s ambivalence over the tax issue has given the Tories a new lease on life, and despite the close election, the tax issue clearly gave President-elect George Bush an edge: ABC News reported that Bush had a 62 percent lead among the 15 percent of voters who saw taxes as the No. 1 issue.

With Kyoto in trouble, the global-warming crowd is falling back to their original preference for direct taxes on energy use. Gore pushed for a comprehensive energy tax in 1993, and now James Hammitt of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis writes in the Washington Post that “A simpler and surer approach (than Kyoto) is a national tax on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.”

Similarly, Gregg Easterbrook, one of the more nonideological proponents of global-warming theory, told the PBS “Newshour” that “The United States certainly could benefit from higher energy taxes.” That same day Paul Krugman said in The New York Tiimes that “The most straightforward policy would be an across-the-board carbon tax.”

Bad ideas never die, but they will fade away and lose currency if politicians are forced to respond to the legitimate concerns of an informed public. For high energy prices and fuel taxes that may be starting to happen. For other major items on the global government agenda, like cross-border collusion on antitrust actions, regulation of biotechnology and international environmental regulation, the political learning curve is not so far advanced. For that reason alone, those of us who cherish freedom, limited government and American sovereignty can’t afford to relax.