Kyoto: Good Reviews for Bad Rubbish

You can’t always tell if something is good by its reviews.

Hitchcock’s classic movie Vertigo was called “farfetched nonsense” by the New Yorker. Time called it “another Hitchcock-and-bull story in which the mystery is not so much who done it as who cares.” Art critics slammed Cezanne, saying his art “recalls the designs that schoolchildren make.” Melville’s Moby Dick was labeled “sheer moonstruck lunacy.” John Keats’s epic poem Endymion (“A thing of beauty is a joy forever…”) was dubbed unreadable.1 The life-affirming classic It’s a Wonderful Life was such a box office flop that it helped kill the studio that made it.2

These days, nothing seems to get better reviews than the Kyoto global warming treaty. Is the praise deserved?


Serious analysts – including supporters of the treaty – concede Kyoto won’t do what it claims. It won’t have a useful impact on global temperatures. What it will do, and do too well, is hurt the U.S. economy and transfer U.S. wealth overseas.

A recent examination by physicist S. Fred Singer of the Science and Environmental Policy Project speaks volumes about the unequal costs of Kyoto.3

Singer points out that Kyoto’s requirement that developed countries drastically curtail their emissions of so-called greenhouse gases would cost the U.S. economy at least four times more than all the European Union (EU) countries combined.

This has helped spur an enthusiastic endorsement of the agreement by many in the EU but it should give pause to Americans who are rightly concerned about the strength of our economic recovery.

Do we really want to pay $2.2 trillion4 for what even optimistic Kyoto supporters say would be climate moderation of one-twentieth of a degree Celsius by the year 2050?5

According to Yale University economist William Nordhaus, the Kyoto Treaty would reduce the competitiveness of the U.S. with respect to the EU and other high-income countries, principally Japan, Canada and Australia.

In addition to this inequity, Kyoto would have handed Russia and other Eastern European nations a windfall of $1 trillion6 through the sale of carbon dioxide emission permits, which would allow them to profit from greenhouse gases they don’t emit.

Some might say these countries need a boost, but if someone needs a helping hand, let’s be honest about it and not try to disguise it as a global climate initiative.

This wealth redistribution accord would have onerous impacts for the average American consumer. Singer notes that the U.S. Energy Information Administration and most independent economists put the annual cost of Kyoto at around two percent of U.S. gross domestic product, with some estimates as high as four percent, or $3,000 per year for each household.

This is not a recipe for improving the lot of disadvantaged Americans. Because the prices of such necessities as heating oil and electricity would go up, the treaty, were it ratified, would disproportionately affect the poor and, as they are overrepresented among the poor, minorities. Rich people may not sniff at paying more, but when you’re earning $15,000 a year, $3,000 is serious money.

If we later look back at the Kyoto as a missed opportunity, as some now suggest we someday will, it will not have been a missed opportunity to save the planet, but one to put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage. It certainly is not a chance to do something significant about global warming. All of the rationale behind Kyoto is based on a set of mathematical models that have been shown to be wrong.

According to these models, the part of the earth that should warm first under the greenhouse gas effect is the lower portion of the atmosphere, approximately one to five miles above the earth, called the troposphere.

However, highly accurate, carefully documented NASA satellite and balloon monitoring has shown no warming of the troposphere in over 25 years.7 Other expected patterns in the earth’s climate based on these models have also revealed that the models are faulty.

The science behind Kyoto is so iffy that it has been compared unfavorably to long-range weather forecasts that seek to project climatic events ten, 20, even 50 years away.

Simply put, this is beyond our abilities. Scientists just this year reclassified 1992’s Hurricane Andrew as a catastrophic “Category 5,” saying they’ve decided it was stronger than previously thought.8 If it takes scientists ten years to determine a storm’s severity was when they had access to hard data, how can we expect them predict 48 years into the future with certainty?

Do we really want to bet a couple of trillion dollars that they can predict what the weather is going to be in 2050?


Amy Ridenour is President of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank. 

Footnotes:1 David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace, People’s Almanac #3, Bantam Books, 1981, pp. 439-446.

2 See Tim Dirks, “Greatest Films Review of It’s A Wonderful Life,” downloaded from on August 20, 2002; Judge Barrie Maxwell, review of It’s A Wonderful Life, downloaded from on August 21, 2002.

3 Dr. S. Fred Singer, “The Unequal Costs of Kyoto,” Science and Environmental Policy Project, Arlington, Virginia, downloaded from on August 21, 2002. The website notes that the document was published in The Washington Times on June 17, 2002.

4 Dr. S. Fred Singer, “The Unequal Costs of Kyoto,” Science and Environmental Policy Project, Arlington, Virginia, citing the journal Science, Volume 2 94, pp. 1283-84, November 9, 2001.

5 Dr. S. Fred Singer, “The Unequal Costs of Kyoto,” Science and Environmental Policy Project, Arlington, Virginia, downloaded from on August 21, 2002. The website notes that the document was published in The Washington Times on June 17, 2002.

6 Ibid.

7 Sallie Baliunas, Ph.D. and Willie Soon, Ph.D., “Alaska is Not Heating Up,” Tech Central Station,, January 22, 2002.

8 “Scientists Reclassify 1992’s Hurricane Andrew,” Washington Post, August 22, 2002, p. A9.

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.