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February 03, 2005

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love CO2 Emissions

Even if global warming is anthropogenic in nature, the quest to stop it via emissions cuts looks increasingly futile.

To have half a chance of curbing global warming to within safe levels, the world's greenhouse gas emissions need to fall dramatically to between 30% and 50% of 1990 levels by 2050, a new study suggests.

This is needed to achieve the European Union's ambition of trying to limit global warming to below 2°C over this period - a crucial goal which now appears wildly optimistic.

Even if one accepts the theory of anthropogenic warming--which I don't--cutting carbon dioxide emissions in order reduce global warming is a quest for fool's gold. Always has been, for reasons that will become increasingly clear after Kyoto comes into effect in February, and country after country after country fails to meet the admittedly modest goals set forth in that treaty,

Only Sweden and the UK met their agreed goals, while Spain showed the worst performance with projected emissions 30% higher than target levels. By contrast, the majority of EU accession countries have kept emissions down, with the Baltic States set to achieve cuts of 50% by 2010.

and study after study warn that even those reductions goals are not nearly enough.

Europe as a whole may be able to meet its goals thanks to huge potential market in emissions trading brought about by the unprecedented collapse of heavy industry in the former nations of the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union--graphically portrayed in this pdf from the Guardian--but actual levels of European CO2 output will not fall at all.

That's one reason it was so important for the EU for Russia to ratify Kyoto. Ratification of Kyoto allows that nation to enter into the emissions market, where the EU desperately needs it.

Additionally, though Europe pays lip service to the Kyoto accords, it already is falling behind the voluntary emissions goals it set for itself. Rather than admit failure, Europe is trying to bribe Russia into ratifying the Kyoto Protocol with the promise of cash and admission to the World Trade Organization. Because of Russia's economic collapse, it far exceeds the emissions caps proposed in Kyoto. Under the Kyoto rules, it is allowed to sell its "credits" to other countries, who can then claim the overall emissions target is being met.

The political will to reduce carbon emissions to the levels required by the Meinshausen theory simply does not exist, not in Europe, where governments cannot pass even desperately needed reforms with mass protests in the streets, and certainly not in the United States, where even a Democratic president saw no need to submit the Kyoto Protocol to Congress.

When it comes to global warming, it no longer matters if the currently accepted anthropogenic model is true or not. The battle over global warming is over, and the environmental movement has lost, as even the environmentalists admit.*

Over the last 15 years environmental foundations and organizations have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into combating global warming.

We have strikingly little to show for it.

From the battles over higher fuel efficiency for cars and trucks to the attempts to reduce carbon emissions through international treaties, environmental groups repeatedly have tried and failed to win national legislation that would reduce the threat of global warming. As a result, people in the environmental movement today find themselves politically less powerful than we were one and a half decades ago.

Enforcement of Kyoto, and any attempts to go beyond that treaty, are just as doomed. Green dollars would be better spent in a effort to mitigate the effects of global warming, rather than thrown away on increasingly futile, inevitably doomed, efforts to cut C02 emissions.

*I would label myself an environmentalist, though I suspect many others in the movement would not--much as other liberals take offense by my portrayal of myself as one of those. Global warming aside, I believe in buying protection for endangered ecosystems rather than in governmental dictates proclaiming this or that area to be off limits. As any gun-rights supporter will tell you when it comes to handgun registration, what the government giveth, the government can taketh away. Best not to allow them the power in the first place.

Posted by Bigwig at February 3, 2005 12:11 PM | TrackBack
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Has anyone done any studies on how practical it would be to create CO2 sinks? That is, plant more forests, grow more oceanic plankton, etc.?

Posted by: DBL at February 3, 2005 02:23 PM

I find the most hilarious aspect of the Environmental Movement to be their incredible hubris: The idea that we can control the planet's climate if we just adopt Kyoto.

In light of Earth's climate history, this is ludicrous.

Posted by: Captain Holly at February 3, 2005 07:34 PM

Captain Holly has of course monstrously misrepresented the "environmental movement", which considered Kyoto a copout. It's the bare minimum to mitigate a disaster, not a fix, and as Silflay (no more an "environmentalist" than a "liberal") correctly points out, even that is too much for polities that are owned by corporations that don't fancy the costs of implementing it.

It's all very well, Holly, appealing to the bigger picture of Earth's climate history over the millennia, where, yes, it's true, the warming we have seen in the last century is no more than a blip, but you are fooling yourself if you think that this shows that in the short term human activity cannot affect climate (affecting not being equal to controlling, of course -- a mosquito can affect a man without being his master).

Posted by: Dr Zen at February 3, 2005 11:12 PM

> It's the bare minimum to mitigate a disaster

Except for the small detail that it doesn't do that.

And, it isn't clear that it's a disaster. It's different, and that's a very different thing.

And, to the extent that we can affect climate, why is a specific status quo the one that we should choose?

Posted by: Andy Freeman at February 4, 2005 09:47 AM

"Except for the small detail that it doesn't do that."

Keep denying it but make sure you don't buy a waterfront property.

"And, to the extent that we can affect climate, why is a specific status quo the one that we should choose?"

Kyoto is the beginning, not the end.

Posted by: Dr Zen at February 6, 2005 09:31 PM
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