How Far is Far Enough to Satisfy Enviros?

How far must we reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avert catastrophic global warming? Proponents of the (much watered down) Lieberman-McCain bill (S. 139), requiring greenhouse gas reductions to 2000 levels in 2010, called their proposal “a modest first step,” implying more action is needed. Which is why S. 139 supporters vowed that, at some undetermined point in the future (2004? 2005?), they will push for the original bill’s Phase II reductions to 1990 levels in 2016.

But is this enough? According to global warming alarmists, the answer is clearly “no.”

So is Kyoto, which requires the U.S. to reduce emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012, and calls for a 2 percent reduction in global emissions, sufficient to solve the problem? No again.

To really attack the “problem,” EU officials are now agitating for a 60 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050–in other words, 30 Kyotos. Based on data from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Council for Capital Formation found that “in order to put the world on that trajectory, developed country emissions must fall to zero by 2050 in order to allow developing countries to continue to grow.” Developing countries, of course, are exempt from Kyoto.

Still others have suggested that stabilizing CO2 concentrations at 550 ppm by 2050 would prevent the deleterious impacts of global warming. What would this mean in practice? A February 2002 report by the Interdepartmental Analysts Group, prepared for the British government, found that developed countries would have to make tremendously harmful cuts in emissions. The U.S., for example, would have to reduce CO2 emissions by a whopping 80 percent below a 1998 baseline. In other words, 40 Kyotos. (Remember, according to independent estimates, one Kyoto would cost the American economy around $400 billion annually.)

Presumably, Lieberman-McCain supporters are prepared to take these extraordinary measures, and soon–after all, this is an urgent problem begging for a solution. But are they prepared to admit that beyond their modest step, 40 Kyotos are necessary? Or do they disagree with the EU? Discussion on this point was conspicuously absent from the debate two weeks ago.

Finally, even if we take these incredibly expensive steps, will they bear fruit? In November 2002, 18 prominent scholars argued in Science magazine that there is no regulatory solution to anthropogenic climate change. The article concludes that the ability to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions without seriously damaging the economy is not possible at this time. “CO2 is a combustion product vital to how civilization is powered.” Kyoto-like “solutions” have “serious deficiencies that limit their ability to stabilize global climate.”