Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Kyoto

Having failed in the past, I'll try once more to bait Tolles into this argument. Here is the report from the WaPo: Kyoto Treaty Takes Effect Today/Impact on Global Warming May Be Largely Symbolic.

Largely symbolic, eh? Sounds like something we should be totally willing to jeopardize our economy to back. On the other hand, we keep having this discussion about headline writers only having a vague idea what the actual article is about so let's go right to the text. First sentence:

The Kyoto treaty to reduce global warming goes into effect today after seven years of wrangling, harangues, and dramatic entrances and exits by Russia and the United States.
When, exactly, was the dramatic entrance by the United States? We have never come close to being a signature to this treaty. In fact, the absolute closest we came was when President Clinton mentioned Kyoto out loud once, prompting the Senate to pass a "Sense of the Senate" resolution. The vote on that resolution was 95-0 against Kyoto. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Clinton never presented the Kyoto Protocol resolution for signing. Click read more:

Emissions of carbon dioxide will continue to rise, many of the cuts in greenhouse gases claimed under Kyoto probably would have happened anyway, and its future could be derailed by the stony opposition of the Bush administration. Supporters acknowledge those realities but argue that the real impact of the treaty is not tangible. "The greatest value is symbolic," said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change...
Wait, supporters admit CO2 emissions will continue to rise and cuts in greenhouse gases will happen anyway?? Hmmm. Methinks this is more about politics than science. Sure enough page two of the article points out that developing nations such as India and China are exempt from emissions controls. Says an EU spokesman:

"You can't expect developing countries to waive their right to grow because the
industrialized countries for the last 100 years have eaten all the cake,"...
A good and fair political point. But is this about politics or is it about saving the planet? If we are in mortal danger of ruining the planet it doesn't really matter whether it is US CO2 emissions or Chinese CO2 emissions, does it? If by 2010 developing countries are responsible for the majority of emissions, allowing them to continue apace for fairness sake doesn't make sense. Then, oddly, this point is made by a pro-Kyoto man:

"You can't solve global warming by increasing emissions," said Jeremy Symons,
manager of the global warming program at the National Wildlife Federation, an
advocacy group. "That is what we are doing now. That is what President Bush is
doing. You can't stop an environmental problem by increasing pollution."
But, by admission this is what Kyoto is doing, too. It is just a different set of countries benefiting.

Back to page one of the article:

Global temperatures are indisputably rising...
Actually, there is a great deal of dispute over this. It depends upon what time frame you use, whether you are measuring air, water, or land temperatures and where the temperatures are taken. For a tiny bit of insight into this issue check out this discussion of a NYT correction. Note the last paragraph where we find that if we cherry pick the years 1965-1995 we see a 5.4 degree rise in temperature in Alaska. If we chose 1972-2002 instead we see a 2.5 degree temperature change. Picking the start and end points accounts for over half the temperature fluctuation. Also, check out the larger point of the article which is that one should be wary of global warming statistics, at least as they are reported in the NYT.

...and, while there are persistent skeptics, the vast majority of scientists say human activity is to blame.
I think a modifier is in order here. Perhaps: "largely to blame" or "partially to blame". The idea that humans are 100% to blame for rises in temperatures is, I suspect, nonsense. Even the most hardened environmentalists concede that temperatures fluctuate naturally and that the 18th and 19th centuries were the end of an epoch called "the little ice age" because temperatures had fallen below "normal". I'd also like to see the fact checking behind "the vast majority" of scientists. The vast majority of scientists have nothing to do with climate issues at all. I had a friend in grad school doing his dissertation on climate policy. He was a committed global warming believer, but told me that the relevant scientific community was split into thirds: one third were believers in global warming, one third were very skeptical, and one third were unsure. I'd have to be convinced that the entire middle third had been converted before I would believe the "vast majority" line.
Rising temperatures have already been linked to impacts on agriculture, coastal areas and public health.
Yes, and the sun rises in the east. The idea that it is some kind of scientific finding that temperature has an impact on agriculture is a little odd. Oh, by the way the article fails to mention that the impacts here would be largely positive.

Melting ice caps could raise sea levels and inundate coastal areas, scientists say. Changes in ocean temperature could disrupt the Gulf Stream and make Europe much colder, said Annie Petsonk, international counsel at Environmental Defense, an advocacy organization.

And, thus, we leave the science portion of the segment and turn to the science fiction portion. Yes, all these speculative things could happen.

Tropical diseases such as malaria are spreading into new areas as a result of climate change in Africa...
Well yes. Climate change and the banning of DDT. The fact of the matter is we could virtually eradicate malaria for a fraction of the yearly cost of Kyoto on the US economy. It takes real guts for environmentalists to complain about malaria, having spent so much time and effort banning the best known defense against it. Kudos, Ken Newcombe, kudos.


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