President Bush has rejected the Kyoto Protocol on Global Climate Change because it demands risky and unwarranted Draconian action on the basis of uncertain and contradictory scientific evidence. At the same time though, he has called for expanded research and international cooperation to mitigate any environmentally harmful effects man-made global warming may have if it is actually occurring. This is a narrow and potentially treacherous course to navigate, and I hope we don't slide off into the costs of Kyoto without its formalities.
The science of global warming is too uncertain and we know far too little about the true risks of climate change to jump into a crash course to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As pointed out by Richard Lindzen, the MIT professor who contributed to the president's new National Academy of Sciences study on global warming, "We are not in a position to confidently attribute past climate change to carbon dioxide or to forecast what the climate will be in the future."
The global warming hypothesis is defended based on land-based temperature readings and indirect estimates of surface temperatures, measured over time. These measurements require multiple assumptions and have a lot of uncertainties, but the scientific consensus - as stated in the new NAS survey of global warming commissioned by the Bush White House - is that the planet probably warmed about 0.6 degrees centigrade between 1880 and 1940, then declined until the 1980s and started to rise again. Contradicting this view is satellite data, the most accurate of global-wide measurements (and usually ignored by global warming zealots), which indicates no measurable warming since 1979.
The sum and substance of global warming hysteria is the so-called precautionary principle, which Dr. Elizabeth Whelan points out "is invoked in situations where the scientific evidence is extremely tentative but the potential for arousing fear is great."
That's an accurate description of attitudes in Europe, and it explains why President Bush, in an effort to smooth things over with the EU, signed on to the June 14 Goteborg Statement, co-signed by the EU, which says climate change "requires a global solution" to "stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere." The danger is that we could be ensnared by a diplomatic alternative to Kyoto that drives us toward a global commitment to phasing out fossil fuels.
Europe, Japan, and other parties to the Kyoto accord know that we will never adopt the treaty, but they are prepared to move ahead on their own. The EU is dogmatically obsessed with this issue - even newly elected Italian President Sylvio Berlusconi, who initially said his country would back off Kyoto, now says he'll stick with the EU position. President Bush can control what the United States does, but he will soon face a decision about whether to pressure our economic and political allies to deep-six Kyoto once and for all.
In my opinion, that is what he should do because a Kyoto accord, even without the United States, will have the same destructive impact of cutting short the economic and political aspirations of the developing world. President Bush must keep raising the clear trumpet-call of economic freedom, sound science and technological innovation. Even if man-made greenhouse gas emissions were proven to be a problem that would be the only viable path for the world to follow. As far as science can demonstrate, greenhouse gas concentrations have never been stable, not in the millennia before mankind appeared on the scene. When we still have no idea what natural variability in those gases is, or whether human action is the main factor in their increase, or what their relationship to climate variability may be.
The presidents new National Academy of Sciences report, widely heralded by the media as committing the Bush administration to global warming theory leads off with the assertion that "greenhouse gases are accumulating in earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise." That lead-off is somewhat misleading, giving all the caveats and disclaimers in the academy report MIT's Lindzen points out that summary is out of sync with the "span of views" represented in the full report.
A more candid critique comes from former NAS President Frederick Seitz, who points out that data cited by the NAS come from many questionable sources, and reminds us of the contradictory evidence from weather satellites, evidence and endorsed in a different report by the NAS just last year. Even surface data from well-controlled U.S. stations (after removing urban "heat-island" effects) show the warmest years as being around 1940 and no upward trend since then.
The jury is still out on global warming. My friendly, outside advice to President Bush is this: You will prevail in resisting the lure of neo-Kyoto global energy management if you keep sound science in mind, and drive all your decisions - political and diplomatic - through the clear lens of objective scientific inquiry. The world demands no less.