Four myths about global warming

Posted: Nov 16, 2001 12:00 AM
Now that yet another confab on the 1997 Kyoto global warming protocol has ended with participants patting each on the back for being such good enviros, you can expect even more pressure on President Bush to embrace the pact. According to polls, Americans support the pact, which ostensibly will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. Alas, the public has bought into four myths that beg to be debunked. Myth No. 1: Some 98 percent of scientists believe that global warming is real -- as former Veep Al Gore wrote in his 1992 book, "Earth in the Balance." To the contrary, a 1992 Gallup poll found that only 17 percent of climatologists were convinced that human-induced global warming was real. In June 2001, the National Academy of Sciences presented Bush with a report, endorsed by 11 top scientists, that many newspapers reported as confirmation that catastrophic predictions on global warming are true and that the Kyoto protocol is a much-needed remedy. The report did note that "temperatures are, in fact, rising" and are "most likely due to human activities." Less reported was the follow-up clause: "but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes are also a reflection of natural variability." As NASA's James Hansen -- one of the 11 scientists and a believer in global warming -- testified before the Senate, "There is no fixed 'truth' delivered by some body of 'experts.'" (Indeed, some scientists believe the phenomenon could be benign.) Far from endorsing Kyoto, Hansen added, "It is impractical to stop CO2 (carbon dioxide) from increasing in the near term, as fossil fuels are the engine of the global economy." Rather than push for Kyoto's reductions of carbon dioxide, Hansen believes it may make more sense to concentrate on reducing ozone, soot and methane. Myth No. 2: The Euros are heroes on Kyoto. You can credit Western European countries with strong transit systems and superior automobile fuel efficiency -- not to mention using nuclear generators to produce power. But it's been easy for the Euros to support Kyoto because, at the 1997 summit, they shrewdly negotiated a baseline year of 1990 -- when their pollution was thick from coal-fired and Soviet-style plants. By 1997, many European countries already had reached the "goal" -- for Europe, 8 percent below 1990 levels -- they had negotiated. By 1996, Germany was close to 15 percent below its 1990 levels, and the United Kingdom was down by almost 5 percent. And for all of the Euros' hammering of Bush for not supporting Kyoto, Romania is the only industrial country to have ratified the pact. Myth No. 3: The United States is a lone holdout on Kyoto. It's true that Bush walked away from the pact, as the leader of no other country has done. It's also true that Kyoto exempts China -- the world's No. 2 greenhouse-gas emitter -- and India and other developing nations. Advocates argue that developing nations shouldn't be held to standards that would thwart economic development -- but Kyoto has no goals for these countries. Myth No. 4: Kyoto is doable, if only Bush would go with the flow. The pact would require that the United States reduce greenhouse gases to 7 percent below 1990 levels. Last week, the Energy Information Administration reported that in 2000, greenhouse emissions grew 3.1 percent. They're now 14 percent higher than 1990 levels. If the pact-mongers had cared about crafting a deal that is doable, they'd have picked achievable targets for all countries -- not just Europe. So while negotiators are congratulating themselves for cleaving to Kyoto, they should know that the only sure thing they've gotten out of the pact is some good-old America-bashing.