Costly Economics and Faulty Science Kill the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty, by John Carlisle

The Kyoto treaty is dead.

Negotiated by the Clinton Administration in December 1997, the Kyoto treaty would have required the United States and other major industrialized nations to make economically-drastic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions to combat the alleged threat of man-made global warming.

From November 13-24, the U.S. and most of the world’s nations are convening at a United Nations meeting in The Hague, Netherlands ostensibly to finalize the details about how nations are supposed to implement the terms of the treaty.

Instead, the delegates will be presiding over a wake.

After more than two years of fighting adamant U.S. Senate opposition to the treaty and growing scientific skepticism about the validity of the global warming theory, environmentalists are conceding that the Kyoto treaty is going nowhere, domestically or internationally.

Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Climate Change, one of the treaty’s most vocal advocates, says Kyoto’s unrealistic carbon dioxide reduction targets for the U.S., a 30-40% reduction in emissions by 2010, make it “very difficult, if not impossible” to overcome opponents’ opposition. Instead of finalizing the treaty, Claussen says delegates at The Hague “should correct the flaws in the Kyoto framework.”1 Likewise, Roger Pielke of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research says Kyoto will fail because of “political and technical realities.”2

That political reality is the unacceptable sacrifices Kyoto would require of the American people. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, the Kyoto treaty would cost the U.S. economy $400 billion per year, raise electric utility bills by 86% and impose a permanent “Kyoto gasoline tax” of 66 cents per gallon. Black Americans and other minorities would pay an especially steep price.3 Independent econometric studies conclude that the treaty would result in the loss of 1.4 million jobs, 100,000 fewer businesses and a $2,500 cut in the average annual family incomes of black and Hispanic families.4

As if the shocking economic costs were not enough of an argument against the Kyoto treaty, the mounting scientific evidence questioning the impact of human behavior on climate change has increasingly robbed global warming theorists of their veneer of scientific credibility. Pielke admitted as much when he said, “Each new scientific finding only raises new questions” about the truth of the global warming theory and that climate science, instead of being a pillar for theory advocates, can “turn around and bite you.”5

Probably the biggest bite climate science has taken out of the global warming theory is that NASA weather satellites, the most accurate measurement of global temperature, indicate that the Earth stopped warming more than 20 years ago. This contradicts the prediction of global warming theory proponents that global warming would cause the temperature to increase by 0.6°F between 1979 and 2000.6 Casting further doubt on the prognostications of global warming theorists is that satellite data show that, during 1999 and 2000, the lower atmosphere over the tropics was cooler than at any other time in the past 22 years. Noted climate scientist Dr. John Christy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville says, “This is curious. According to the climate models used to calculate the enhanced greenhouse effect, the warming should have been particularly rapid in the air over the tropics.”7

But it turns out that whatever global warming or cooling may occur, Man is not to blame. Many scientists believe that the main factor influencing changes in the Earth’s temperature is the Sun. Several European and American scientists say that data from the European Space Agency’s Soho satellite and other astronomical data show that the Sun, not Man’s burning of fossil fuels, is the main cause of the global warming that occurred between 1850 and the mid-20th century. Scientists specializing in solar research say earlier computer models that were used to make dramatic claims about theorized human-induced warming severely underestimated the increase in the amount of energy radiated by the Sun over the last 150 years. They conclude that it is pointless to impose taxes on fuels in an attempt to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Paul Brekke, Soho’s deputy project scientist, says that whatever other merits there may be in taxing fuel, “our evidence suggests it will not be much help in keeping the Earth cool.”8

It is also not apparent that rising carbon dioxide levels necessarily cause the temperature to increase. An article that appeared this year in the science magazine Nature shows that, in numerous instances throughout Earth’s geological history, increases and decreases in carbon dioxide were not followed by respective increases or decreases in global temperature. For example, 60 million years ago, the atmosphere had a carbon dioxide concentration of 3600 parts per million (ppm), far more than today’s ratio of about 360 ppm. Thirteen million years later, the carbon dioxide concentration dramatically fell to 500 ppm. But instead of causing global cooling, the reduced carbon dioxide concentration coincided with a temperature increase. Several million years later, the carbon dioxide level jumped all the way up to 2400 ppm. And the temperature? There was a slight decrease in global temperature, contradicting the assumption that rising carbon dioxide levels automatically trigger global warming.9

It’s no wonder that even environmentalists are accepting the fact that the Kyoto treaty is a dead letter. The staggering economic sacrifices are simply not justified by the growing scientific skepticism that human activities are causing the planet to warm and about carbon dioxide’s role in climate change. For environmentalists, The Hague meeting is a bitter dose of reality.


John K. Carlisle is director of The National Center for Public Policy Research’s Environmental Policy Task Force. 


1 “Reality Check Foils Kyoto,” World Climate Report, Vol. 5, No. 21, Greening Earth Society, Arlington, Virginia, July 24, 2000.
2 Ibid.
3 “Impacts of the Kyoto Protocol on the United States,” Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, DC, October 1998.
4 Senator Malcom Wallop, “Gore Plan Would Hold Us Hostage to Saddam’s Oil,” The Houston Chronicle, October 25, 2000.
5 “Reality Check Foils Kyoto.”
6 Dr. Patrick Michaels, “Satellite Targeted in the Hot Zone,” The Washington Times, March 26, 1998.
7 “Climate Change: New Impressions From Space,” News on Protecting the Environment, European Space Agency, September 29, 2000.
8 Jonathan Leake, “Stronger Sun is Blamed for Global Warming,” Times of London, September 24, 2000.
9 “The Pathetic Relationship Between Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Earth’s Temperature Over the Past Sixty Million Years,” review by Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, Tempe, Arizona, September 20, 2000.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.