Wednesday, February 23

The Kyoto treaty and a steamy situation

"Pundita my dear, don't you think Bush could have thrown Europe a bone and signed onto Kyoto? The treaty is so ineffective it wouldn't do any harm to go along with it and besides the US is now missing out on the hot action in emissions credits trading. The trade is going to generate big business, even bigger than the action from the UN Oil for Food program.
[Signed] Boris in Jackson Heights"

Dear Boris:

We appreciate your sarcasm but going along with Kyoto is anything but harmless. Kyoto represents the institutionalization of what's known in the trade as "dartboard" research. But this isn't just bad government-funded medical research we're talking about. This is an issue humanity can't afford to get wrong, and we can't afford to piddle around for a century to come up with the right answers.

Global warming is a fact. But we don't know why the globe is warming and whether the phenomenon is within human control in any significant way. We don't know how much of various human activity, such as industrial fishing, contributes to warming. We have many puzzle pieces but we haven't constructed a good working hypothesis that would allow us to integrate all the data that could possibly relate to presumed reasons for global warming.

Instead, we've seized on one piece of the puzzle--industrial emissions--and diverted billions of dollars to creating solutions that on one side might be worse than the problem, and on other side are completely ineffective.

In the one camp, which represents solutions President Bush is pushing, we've got a bunch of car companies investing billions in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. But has anybody done a study on the environmental impact of the steam generated by gadzillions of hydrogen fuel cells in operation?

At least one study done years ago on the impact of water from jet streams suggested that the cumulative effect of the water released into the atmosphere has a significant impact on the weather.

I don't think the study was pursued because it isn't sexy science; i.e., the line of research doesn't attract big government bucks, and because what airline manufacturer and carrier wants to read that kind of research?

But before billions more are invested, we need to figure out if steam producing solutions are taking humanity from the frying pan into the fire.

Now we turn to the Kyoto camp. Just three countries not under the Kyoto treaty--China, India and US--between them are building 850 coal-fired plants that will spew up to five times as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as the Kyoto treaty is meant to reduce. This is not counting the emissions from vehicles in China and other developing countries. That's a huge consideration because they're now building, importing and buying vehicles in China and India at the rate of a zillion per minute.

And the administration and monitoring of the Kyoto agreement is so hideously complicated that it calls for yet another massive supranational bureaucratic construct with the attendant waste in resources and, as you hinted with a sledgehammer, a great opportunity for graft.

And then there is the thundering herd of elephants in the living room, which is that China is looming as the biggest problem with regard to industrial emissions, and China doesn't want to sign the Kyoto accord.

So there is a Marx Brothers quality about Kyoto. It solves nothing, goes nowhere, and generates tons of paper (from trees) that are unread by the aides whose job it is to plow through data for their bosses in government. Yet this Nothing has become a foreign policy football and is seriously discussed at state dinners.


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