The U.S. Senate can barely agree to hold up-or-down votes to confirm judges, but no worries ? it is about to save the planet. At least that's the conceit of Republican senators proposing to institute caps on emissions of greenhouse gases.
If the U.S. had ratified the Kyoto treaty, it would have had to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2012. Bipartisan opposition sank the treaty, and it wasn't even mentioned in the Democrats' 2004 platform ? although its demise is always attributed in the press to the work of President Bush alone. With Kyoto itself off the table, senators have been busy trying to forge a Kyoto-lite.
John McCain is promoting a bill that mandates emissions be cut to 2000 levels by 2010. Democrat Sen. Jeff Bingaman (New Mexico) has proposed a competing bill that wouldn't reduce the absolute level of carbon-dioxide emissions, but their rate of increase. The game is to get any restriction, no matter how piddling, on carbon-dioxide emissions. As environmental analyst Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute argues, the debate then will forevermore be not whether emissions should be capped, but by how much. Thus, the U.S. will enter a new era of restrictions on its energy consumption. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of coal, oil and natural gas, which account for 85 percent of all energy consumed by Americans.
The point of all this is to ? insert senatorial furrowed brow here ? address the "crisis" of global warming. Global warming is real, and it is probably at least partly man-made. The temperature has risen 0.6 degrees Celsius throughout the past century. Somehow, we still manage to inhabit this planet Earth. It is unclear what catastrophe would occur if, under one of the estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the temperature increased another 1.4 degrees Celsius throughout the next 100 years.
One theory is that ice caps will melt and lead to a disastrous increase in the sea level. But warming is not evenly distributed. Antarctica has experienced slight cooling in recent decades. Temperatures in Greenland have fallen the past 15 years, and even though the Arctic is warmer than it was 35 years ago, it is cooler than it was in 1930.