warming is a complex issue to figure out, but one thing about it is actually
quite simple - discerning which side dominates the debate right now. For the
past year, those who view global warming as a crisis justifying a major federal
response have had just about everything going in their favor.
the Bush administration continues to resist first-ever mandatory limits on
carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, but the Democratically controlled
Congress has introduced a number of so-called cap-and-trade bills to do just
that. Some of them have bipartisan support. And many of the leading presidential
candidates have endorsed these efforts.
other factors, including a recent Supreme Court decision compelling the
Environmental Protection Agency to consider global warming measures, as well as
state and local efforts to bypass the feds and impose their own controls, all
seem to be forcing
the opposition to cap and trade seems to be collapsing. The owners of the
nation's coal-fired power plants, manufacturing facilities, and oil companies -
until recently the most politically powerful holdouts - have largely given up
the fight. Most now see some form of fossil-fuel rationing as inevitable, and
several are actually lobbying for cap-and-trade legislation in the hope that
they can shape it to their advantage.
course, the driving force behind all of this is the steady stream of gloomy
claims about global warming. Most recently, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC) report received widespread coverage as the smoking-gun
evidence that mankind is warming the planet to dangerously high levels. Al
Gore's Academy Award-winning movie and accompanying bestseller, An Inconvenient
Truth, has also done much to hammer home the message.
drumbeat continues as virtually every natural disaster that occurs- from storms,
to droughts, to floods, to wildfires, to disease outbreaks- gets pinned on
global warming. Even normal summer temperatures sometimes get alarmist ink.
frightening coverage has clearly shaped public opinion. Surveys consistently
show that a majority of Americans want their government to do something about
all of this into account, there's no question that global-warming activists
currently have the momentum. But momentum can change, and on this issue there
are reasons to believe it soon will. It may well be that the prospects for the
cap-and-trade bills are peaking - before being enacted into law - and will begin
to fall once as the following factors come into focus.
's Great Leap Forward on Emissions.
central part of the climate-change message has been the demonization of
as the world's top global-warming culprit. But that will soon change, as
is close to surpassing the
and becoming the biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses. When this shift happens
it will have tremendous practical as well as symbolic significance, and it will
dim the appeal of unilateral
is important to note that
isn't slowly edging past
; it is roaring ahead. Emissions of carbon dioxide, the byproduct of fossil-fuel
combustion and the greenhouse gas of greatest concern, are exploding along with
's economy. New coal-fired power plants are reportedly being added in
at the rate of about one per week, and these facilities are less efficient and
higher-emitting than their western counterparts. According to the Netherlands
Environmental Assessment Agency, which believes
has already surpassed
, emissions in China rose 9-percent in 2006, on top of a 12-percent increase in
's emissions have been growing much more slowly, averaging little more than
1-percent per year. They actually declined by 1.3-percent in 2006, according to
the Department of Energy.
was easily the biggest emitter during the 20th century, but future
carbon-dioxide emissions will come less from American sources, and more from
Chinese ones. Even if the
saddled itself with economy-damaging energy constraints, it would barely begin
's projected increases. But so far,
has adamantly refused to agree to any controls, arguing that economic growth is
their top priority. Other fast-growing developing nations have said the same
notwithstanding questions about the seriousness of the global-warming problem,
any bills that single out
emissions will be a fast-shrinking part of the solution. As
's emissions race ahead of ours, Americans will begin to realize that unilateral
action is not the way to go.
1997 Kyoto Protocol, the multilateral global-warming treaty, is still being
touted as a great success. The Western European governments that signed onto the
treaty continue to congratulate themselves for doing so while criticizing
for staying out. Most climate activists here convey the same message. They hope
to make up for lost time by enacting one of the Kyoto-like cap-and-trade bills
currently under consideration.
far from being a model to emulate,
is proving to be a near-complete failure, and over time it is going to get more
difficult to conceal this fact.
all their rhetoric, the European nations are well off track of
's requirement that emissions be 8-percent below 1990 levels starting in 2008.
Official European emissions data shows that nearly every one of these countries
has higher carbon-dioxide emissions today than when the treaty was signed in
1997, and the emissions increases show no signs of leveling off. The same is
, and other major non-European signatories. In fact, most of these countries are
seeing their emissions rising faster than those in the
Protocol activists and the media continue to heap praise on the treaty for its
carbon-emissions goals, but they rarely explore the obvious question of whether
these goals are actually being met. But the failure to reduce emissions can't
remain a secret for much longer. Once
reality sets in, it will deal a blow both to the treaty itself and to any
congressional efforts to mimic its approach.
·The High Costs to Cool The
Protocol signatories are not reducing their emissions is that doing so is
proving to be prohibitively costly. These nations are learning the hard way what
the Bush administration has understood all along - that attempts to rapidly
force down the fossil-fuel use that provides the backbone of modern economies
will be very expensive. As costs enter into the debate, they could well prove to
be a game changer.
inundating the public with scary stories about global warming's effects, the
proponents of cap-and-trade have thus far said little about the costs of
combating the threat-and for good reasons. Their agenda would inflict serious
and noticeable economic pain long before it would have even a modest impact on
the earth's future temperature.
's provisions, if fully implemented, would have cost Americans hundreds of
billions of dollars annually from higher energy prices, but would, according to
proponents, avert only 0.07 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2050.
the Kyoto Protocol's small impact on warming, many proponents believe that the
treaty should be just a first step towards much stronger controls. But, as the
European experience is showing, even this first step is proving too costly and
impractical. It should be noted that the surveys indicating public support for
action on warming also show that the support quickly turns into opposition if
the measures taken would raise energy prices appreciably. This is especially
true for gasoline prices, and on this point the European experience is worth
noting. A European Environment Agency report found that greenhouse-gas emissions
from motor vehicles continue to rise due to increased driving, despite
punitively high European gasoline taxes that push the overall price well above
$6 per gallon. In fact, increased vehicle emissions are a big part of the reason
most Western European countries are going to miss their
targets. If $6 per gallon is not high enough to discourage driving and meet
's global-warming targets, then what will it take here? Americans, who get angry
enough over $3 gas, will want answers to this and other economic questions
before they buy into any climate policy.
realistic discussion about costs can't be sidestepped much longer. Once it
commences, it has the potential to greatly sap the momentum for these bills.
·Bursting the Climate Fear Bubble
the last year or so, the coverage of climate science has gotten more apocalyptic
in tone. This is not so much a change in the underlying science as a change in
the way it is being communicated to the public. The cap-and-trade proponents
have cranked up the gloom and doom for a reason - they essentially had to. The
issue in the
was dead in the water without it. Previous efforts to move cap-and-trade bills
had been easily defeated, and proponents needed to shake things up. For now, it
fear is two-edged sword. It can be used to whip up support for action over the
near term, but it is hard to sustain for long, especially if it is not well
supported by fact. Eventually it could lead to a backlash. Indeed, the
global-warming doomsayers may well prove to be their own worst enemy, with their
credibility taking a tumble along with the prospects for cap-and-trade
legislation. One over-utilized source, employed in spreading this kind of fear,
is supposedly rock-solid "scientific consensus" on global warming, a
consensus that has significant outer limits. Virtually everything the public has
been told about global warming that sounds terrifying is not true and lies
outside that consensus. And what is true and fully accepted by most scientists
really isn't particularly terrifying.
the two scariest and most attention-grabbing claims from An Inconvenient Truth -
rising sea levels and deadlier hurricanes. Gore devotes considerable attention
to the horrible consequences of an 18- to 20-foot rise in sea level over an
unspecified time frame, including computer graphics showing major parts of
coastal cities like
and even entire regions, like
, under water. Yet the IPCC report (which Gore considers to be the gold standard
of consensus science) projects an increase of 7 to 23 inches over the next
century. The lower end of that range is about what has occurred - without
serious consequences - over the last two centuries. Of course, the public
doesn't closely follow the details of global-warming science, but the
disjunction between hype and reality is so big that even casual observers can
smell a rat.
addition, Gore couldn't resist exploiting Hurricane Katrina,
's deadliest natural disaster in years. He blames global warming for the storm
that claimed over 1,000 lives in August 2005, driving home the message with
image after image of post-Katrina devastation. Gore asserts that Katrina
portends a dangerous new era where deadlier storms are more common. But how then
to explain the 2006 hurricane season, which was unusual only in how little
hurricane damage occurred?
warming or not, we will get our share of hurricanes. But if we go yet another
year without anything as bad as Katrina, the public may realize, quite rightly,
that Gore simply engaged in opportunism, and that no global warming-induced
pattern of deadlier hurricanes exists. If people start to feel that they have
been lied to about these and other global-warming catastrophe scenarios, it
could spell the end for cap-and-trade legislation.
current Congress has pledged to make a go of enacting cap-and-trade legislation,
actually pegging it as a top priority when they took over in January. But beyond
holding innumerable hearings on pending bills, the House and Senate have done
little since, except put off their initial deadlines for action. This may be a
first sign that their momentum is slowing. And with the current trends currently
pushing their way into the debate, things are not going to get any easier for
them in the months and years ahead.
Lieberman is a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation's Roe Institute
for Economic Policy Studies.