The following is an excerpt from the December 2 interview of former EPA Administrator Carol Browner by CNN’s Aaron Brown, interspersed with fact-based rejoinders. Among other things, it covered the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, particularly Russia’s reluctance to ratify. Not surprisingly, in addition to a host of comically absurd statements about global warming, Browner blamed Russia’s hostility to Kyoto on the United States.
BROWN: “Carol Browner is a former administrator of the EPA during the Clinton years and she joins us tonight from Washington, good to have you with us. Let’s see how much we can get done. On Kyoto first, if in fact the Russians pull out is the treaty dead?”
CAROL BROWNER, FORMER EPA ADMINISTRATOR: “Well, it may be but maybe not. Obviously, everyone would like to see Russia stay in to become a part of it. I think if Russia does pull out this administration, the Bush administration is partly to blame. The United States is the leading emitter of greenhouse gases. We need to do our part in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. And I think Russia is looking at what we’re failing to do and thinking twice. It would be a big disappointment.”
FACT: Actually, and this is something that must surely pain Mrs. Browner, Russia’s reluctance stems not just from economics (more on that below) or the United States, but science. Vladimir Putin’s top science advisor, Yuri Izrael, has effectively torpedoed Kyoto’s science. Izrael is a vice chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose reports provide the scientific basis for Kyoto. As he said in September: “All the scientific evidence seems to support the same general conclusions, that the Kyoto Protocol is overly expensive, ineffective and based on bad science.”
BROWN: “The Russians, at one point, when they looked at the treaty with the United States in it, actually figured out that they would be financial beneficiaries of the treaty, because they would be — they could sell their credits, their emission credits, to the United States. When the United States backed out, it gave the Russians less economic incentive to go along?”
BROWNER: “I think that’s a real possibility. That is right. Russia could actually sell credits to other countries that have emissions that are above the baseline. The United States is certainly above the baseline. And Russia had hoped to sell credits.”
FACT: Of course. Yet Russia crunched the numbers, and found that selling credits provided only short-term economic benefits. Andrei Illarionov, President Putin’s top economic advisor, put it this way: “If we are to double GDP within the next 10 years, this will require an average economic growth rate of 7.2 percent…No country in the world can double its GDP with a lower increase in carbon dioxide emissions or with no increase at all.”
And the coup de grace: “Considering the Kyoto Protocol is restricting Russia’s economic growth, we must say it straight that it means dooming the country to poverty, backwardness and weakness.”
Moreover, a critical factor in Russia’s queasiness is what happens beyond phase I of Kyoto. European officials are agitating for a 50 percent global reduction in CO2 (some want 60 percent). That’s 25 more Kyotos. Under that scenario, Russia would have to reduce its emissions by nearly 60 percent, an economically suicidal act.
BROWN: “As a practical matter, this does seem to me — and you’ll correct me, I’m sure — that, unless the world gets together to do something, whether the Europeans do something and the Americans do something else and other countries do nothing at all, probably isn’t going to get it done. Do you agree with that?”
BROWNER: “Aaron, I absolutely agree. This is the single greatest public health and environmental threat the world has ever faced. And it will take the entire world working together, Russia, the United States, Europe, China, Japan, everyone working together. Absolutely.”
FACT: This doesn’t square with the public declaration of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development–a program, incidentally, sponsored by the United Nations–which found that poverty, not global warming, is the number one public health threat facing developing countries.
As for the rest of the world, predictions about a climate apocalypse are falling flat. Dr. John Christy, an expert on global satellite measurements, told the New York Times on Nov. 18 that satellite data show global temperatures are “not going in the dramatic and catastrophic direction.” Dr. James Hansen of NASA, known as the father of global warming science, recently echoed Christy’s conclusions.
BROWN: “Why is it still — the facts of this or science of this seem continually in dispute, whether or not humans — there is a human cause to this, whether carbon dioxide is really at fault. All of this seems to be, by critics of the treaty and others, scientifically in play.”
BROWNER: “Well, I think that the naysayers, those in industry who would have to clean up their pollution, reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, love to raise the scientific questions. But the truth of the matter is, there is more scientific agreement on the fact that, in fact, humans are contributing to changes in the climate of the Earth than there’s ever been on any other environmental or public health issue. You have 2,500 of the world’s leading scientists all in agreement that there is a problem and that we need to start the process of addressing the problem.”
FACT: It isn’t immediately clear who those 2,500 scientists are. It’s possible Browner is referring to the 2,500 individuals who endorsed the IPCC’s 1995 report that found a “discernable” human influence on climate change (whatever that means). But most of them were not climate scientists, but social scientists, economists, public relations experts and government functionaries. In fact, 100 climate scientists signed the report.
Even assuming man-made emissions are the overwhelming factor–if not the factor–causing global warming, there’s not much we can do about it. In November 2002, 18 prominent scientists argued in Science magazine that there is no regulatory solution to anthropogenic climate change. “CO2 is a combustion product vital to how civilization is powered,” they wrote. Kyoto-like “solutions” have “serious deficiencies that limit their ability to stabilize global climate.”
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