TCS Daily


Kyoto Flip-Flopper

By James K. Glassman - October 1, 2004 12:00 AM

During last night's debate, Sen. John Kerry -- arguing that "you have to earn [the] respect" of other countries, "and I think we have a lot of earning back to do" -- cited the Kyoto Protocol as an example of poor U.S. policy.

"You don't help yourself with other nations," he said, "when you turn away from the global warming treaty, for instance."

Another flip-flop! And a whopper.

What are the views of Kerry himself and the Democratic Party on that famous treaty, which sets draconian and unworkable targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions?

In July 1997, while the treaty was being negotiated, the U.S. Senate, in a resolution that passed, 95-0, stated that it would not approve a protocol that exempted developing nations or would do harm to the U.S. economy. Kyoto, as Senators knew, did both. On the resolution, named for its sponsors, Sens. Robert Byrd (D-WVa) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb), Kerry voted "aye."

The treaty was signed in December 1997, but for the next three years President Clinton did not even bother submitting it to the Senate for ratification. He knew that it would be defeated, by legislators like John Kerry.

But Clinton did not have the courage to reject the treaty outright and urge the country to move on -- and deal with the threat of climate change in a more responsible way.

Many Democrats, however, continued to push, in a disingenuous way, for passage of the treaty they had originally opposed. One reason: pressure from sanctimonious Europeans, who had taken Vice President Al Gore to the cleaners in Kyoto, producing a treaty that would inflict far less economic harm on Europe than on the United States. Now, the Europeans were faced with going it alone, losing their competitive Kyoto advantage.

In 2000, the Democratic Party platform stated, "We negotiated the historic Kyoto Protocols.... Al Gore and the Democratic Party believe we must now ratify those Protocols."

Shortly afterwards, George W. Bush was elected president. As in so many other areas of public policy, Bush had the courage his predecessor lacked. In the spring of 2001, two months after he took office, Bush publicly called Kyoto "fatally flawed" and, after extensive consultations with policymakers and scientists, embarked on a serious climate policy, stressing research, bilateral agreements, technological solutions and voluntary mitigation.

The latest research, not just in the United States but around the world, is proving Bush -- and the 95 Senators -- correct. A rush to Kyoto-style measures would have severely impeded economic growth and reduced jobs, according to studies by respected economists (including the Clinton administration's own), and the science of warming appears more fuzzy than ever.

For example, extensive monitoring of the regions just about the earth since 1979 by satellite and balloon has found no significant increase in temperatures, even though surface temperature readings have risen at a rate of about 0.17 degrees Centigrade per decade. Why the difference? New research indicates that, assuming the surface readings (taken with cruder methodology) are correct, economic growth may have created surface-level hotspots. But without warming at higher levels, the entire "greenhouse" theory of warming, which is the foundation of the theories of climate-change alarmists that power models showing catastrophe, is invalid. Surface hotspots do not lead to the floods, droughts and other dire consequences that warming fanciers foresee.

In addition, research last year cast doubt on the economic underpinnings of the climate models, which claim that countries like South Africa, Libya and North Korea (!) will have higher incomes than the U.S. over the next century, causing their carbon-dioxide emissions to explode.

Also in 2003, two scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon (both TCS contributors) published an extensive review of more than 200 different studies of climate history, concluding that the weight of these studies present "strong evidence that the climate of the 20th century was not unusual, but fell within the range experienced during the past 1,000 years."

Finally, two Canadian researchers, Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, found serious errors with Michael Mann's research that purported to show temperatures shooting up in the 20th century like the blade of a "hockey stick," in distinct contrast with the past millennium of climate history. (For more on all this, see "The Index of Leading Environmental Indicators, Ninth Edition," by my American Enterprise Institute colleague Steven Hayward here.)

Clearly, more climate research is needed, and we have the time to conduct it. Even Kyoto's supporters admit that the cutbacks in energy use that would be required to meet the targets will delay their warming predictions by only a few years over a century.

But Kerry did not want to be bothered by the facts. On Oct. 30, 2003, he voted in favor of a Democratic amendment to S. 139, which would have forced compliance with the Kyoto Protocol, even without ratification by the Senate. That bill would have required big reductions in CO2, which, in turn, would have meant far higher fuel prices for Americans.

And then, after a flip and a flop, came another flip....

By 2004, it had become clear to the party, and to its presidential candidate John Kerry, that their old position on Kyoto -- no matter how troubling to our European friends like Germany and France -- was untenable. As a result, the 2004 platform took pains to omit any mention of Kyoto, despite wildly antagonist rhetoric on the environment as a whole. Example: "In President George Bush's government, where polluters actually write environmental laws..., protecting the environment doesn't matter at all."

These general claims are absurd, and Americans don't buy them. The U.S. environment continues to improve -- far faster than Europe's in many areas.

Now, flash forward to the evening of Thursday, Sept. 30, in Miami. John Kerry is trying to make the point that nobody (read: Germany and France) loves us anymore because George Bush, with a coalition of 30 other nations, including Britain, Australia, Poland and Italy, went right ahead and enforced the resolutions on Iraq that the United Nations itself was so reluctant to enforce.

Out of his bag of tricks, Kerry pulls.... the Kyoto Protocol!

Maybe the poor man doesn't remember his vote in 1997. Maybe he hasn't read the Democratic platform.

At any rate, it was a bad choice. He grabbed another flip-flop.


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