Happy Kyoto Treaty Day! Actually, the Kyoto treaty came into effect for its signatory nations on February 16th, 2005. Did you notice, fellow Americans? Well, if you didn’t, there’s a reason. The United States is not taking part in the Kyoto treaty. In fact, on July 25, 1997, the Senate voted 95-0 against signing the treaty if President Clinton ever presented it to them.
Of the 141 nations who have signed on to the treaty, only 34 nations will actually be limited by it: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are all signatories of the treaty and are listed as industrial nations who need to limit their evil, polluting ways. Some news articles list 35 nations bound by this treaty, but the 35th is listed as the “European Community,” which is neither the European Union nor a sovereign nation. Since most of the listed nations are already part of Europe, I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to sneak “European Community” onto the list. Four nations who are on the list have not yet jumped on the Kyoto bandwagon: Australia, Croatia, Monaco, and the United States of America.
The rest of the world’s nations–the ones not listed–are not limited at all; essentially, they get a free pass to pollute to their hearts’ desire. As I see it, this treaty has very little to do with ecology and much to do with punishing industrialized nations, because they are the ones required to drop their production of greenhouse gases–either by cutting back on productivity or spending gobs of cash to clean up what is left of their industrial emissions.
In a nutshell, the Kyoto treaty aims to roll back the amount of greenhouse gases produced by developed nations to an artificial 1990 limit. Since no civilization exists without producing greenhouse gases of one form or other, this is effectively saying that the developed nations must either push back their production levels to what they were in 1990 or spend huge sums of money to keep their emissions at 1990 levels. Since it is a basic trend for nations (and people) to produce more and different goods each decade, this is a bit like asking you to voluntarily roll back your wages to the level they were fifteen years ago. For most people, that would be a significant drop in earnings. This is just as true for nations.
Imagine all the things that have been invented and popularized since 1990. If you consider only the field of consumer electronics, you could probably name a score of items that were either rare or nonexistent at the start of the ’90s and that have since become wildly popular: cell phones, PDAs, notebook computers, next-generation video game systems, digital cameras, DVD players, iPods… the list could go on, but that ought to suffice. Now imagine that, because of the pollution that is a by-product of making them, the production of all these items must be pushed back to 1990 levels, or that products in other fields must be artificially pushed back to allow the production of new items. Imagine what that would do to supply and demand, what kind of artificial shortages (and attendant high prices) the situation would create. In such a depressed and deliberately-muzzled market, where electronics are costly and difficult to obtain, how many cool new gadgets are likely to be developed, produced and marketed? Well, the signatories on the Kyoto treaty are about to find out how well that works.
It is for this simple reason that I see the Kyoto treaty as an economic treaty, not a climate treaty. If the treaty actually dealt with scientific facts rather than economic suppositions, it would acknowledge that the primary source of global warming is the sun, and the sun is pretty active right now. Instead, the treaty focuses on six greenhouse gases, listed in Annex A: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). Of these six gases, CO2 is the one getting the most attention as it comprises more than half the volume of the greenhouse gases in question.
The sad thing is that the treaty completely ignores the most important and most abundant of all greenhouse gases: water vapor. To give you an idea of the difference between the amounts of water vapor and CO2 in the atmosphere, imagine piling 100 pennies on the table and then focusing all your attention on three pennies–because the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is about 3%. That is what the scientists behind the Kyoto agreement would like the world to do. But the Kyoto treaty isn’t alone in this blindness about the most plentiful greenhouse gas. Other sites also discuss greenhouse gases without any mention of water vapor. It’s like ignoring the dead elephant in the middle of the room. Why are these people concentrating on the less than 3% that CO2 contributes to the problem, while ignoring the 97% of water vapor? I believe people are so fixated on CO2 because it is man-made, and it can be used as a handy club to beat industrialized nations.
If the Kyoto treaty were really about fixing the environment and stopping global warming, then it would demand that rampant polluters such as India and China be added to the list of polluting nations. But these nations are overlooked in favor of pointing the finger of blame at the U.S. and other developed nations. This means that India and China, both of which are hungry for electric power and the comforts it brings, may continue to build polluting, coal-fired power plants without raising an eyebrow of the Kyoto backers. And India, China, and the U.S. are planning to build lots of new power plants. To quote Mark Clayton’s December 23, 2004 article in the Christian Science Monitor:
The official treaty to curb greenhouse-gas emissions hasn’t gone into effect yet and already three countries are planning to build nearly 850 new coal-fired plants, which would pump up to five times as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as the Kyoto Protocol aims to reduce.
The magnitude of that imbalance is staggering. Environmentalists have long called the treaty a symbolic rather than practical victory in the fight against global warming. But even many of them do not appear aware of the coming tidal wave of greenhouse-gas emissions by nations not under Kyoto restrictions.
Clayton continues to point out that the extra 2.7 billion tons of CO2 put out by new plants in India, China, and the U.S. will dwarf the 483 million tons projected to be cut by Kyoto-complying countries. But some of this extra CO2 can be avoided if we in the United States choose not to create some of the 800+ coal-fired power plants slated for construction around the world. Since no one other than a handful of Californian ecofreaks wants to live in rolling blackout conditions, we must increase the power available to us. So what can we turn to in order to produce the power we need, without creating the CO2 that makes U.N. busybodies foam at the mouth? There is one obvious answer: nuclear power plants.
Oh, the horror! Well, not really. While most people’s initial reaction to a nuclear power plant is to envision terrifying scenes from The China Syndrome, Three Mile Island, or Chernobyl, none of those horrors need happen thanks to the development of pebble-bed reactors. Unlike their unstable big brothers, these smaller reactors cannot cause a meltdown even if all the cooling helium is released from the plant. This means we have the capacity to produce hundreds, if not thousands, of these Chernobyl-free plants around the globe. They are safe, provide inexpensive power, and do not produce the CO2 that makes environmentalists see red.
But environmentalists will never accept nuclear power, even safe nuclear power, because it would encourage countries to become developed and industrialized nations. And they don’t want that. It would destroy their future vision of a clean, primitive, and people-free Earth. Well, free of people who are not the few and right-minded environmentalists, of course.