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Baiting Segments of the U.S. Economy to Grease the Wheels for Senate Ratification of the Kyoto Protocol
Volume 3, Number 19: 23 August 2000

In a news item in the 10 August issue of Nature, Smaglik (2000) describes the most recent attempt of the U.S. State Department to make the Kyoto Protocol more palatable to the American public and the U.S. Senate, both of which entities currently stand in the way of its becoming the law of the land.  Or shall we say the law of the planet?  For if the United States capitulates on this issue and signs on the dotted line, the rest of the world will surely follow.

The government's technique is tried and true: create a major battle over suggested changes to certain provisions of the Protocol that other countries do not like because the changes clearly favor the United States.  Also, make sure there's money in the deal for various segments of the U.S. economy.  Then, when the U.S. "wins," the country and its elected representatives will feel it is safe to proceed with ratification.

The battle lines of the skirmish are even now being drawn in the sand - or, to be more exact, the soil - for the U.S. State Department is proposing that countries be able to count carbon sequestered in the soil by new forestry and farmland techniques as equivalent to carbon not emitted to the atmosphere by the reduced burning of fossil fuels.  On the surface, this proposal is logical to the point of being almost unassailable.  If one looks just below the surface, however, it is seen to be provocatively insidious.

First of all, the Kyoto Protocol's requirement that the industrialized nations of the world reduce their CO2 emissions to 95% of what they were in 1990 by 2012 is, in the monumental understatement of Hansen et al. (2000), "a difficult target to achieve."  What is more, these researchers indicate in their startling new paper that "30 Kyotos" may well be required to accomplish what is truly deemed necessary, which is admitted by all to be an absolute impossibility.  Second, it is now clear that even 300 Kyotos would not do the job; for Hansen et al. indicate, and we believe correctly, that the impetus for global warming resulting from processes that produce CO2 - such as the burning of fossil fuels - is essentially nil (see our Journal Review Then Again ? Rethinking Climate Change).

At one level of consideration, this fact would appear to be even more reason to give credit for soil CO2 sequestration - and after our making this point, it will probably be so argued - for reducing CO2 emissions by reducing the burning of fossil fuels would not produce any net change in the overall impetus for global warming, while soil CO2 sequestration would.  The reason for this non-effect of reduced fossil fuel usage, as explained by Hansen et al., is that the reduced warming impetus provided by reduced CO2 emissions would be nearly exactly canceled by the increased warming impetus provided by the reduced emissions of aerosols resulting from the reduced burning of fossil fuels.  Taking CO2 out of the air by putting it in the soil, however, would not alter atmospheric aerosol concentrations; and, hence, the only climatic effect of this mitigation procedure would be to reduce the potential for global warming.

As we noted in our Editorial of 16 August 2000, however - and this is the second reason why the State Department proposal is so insidious (the first being that the mere "one Kyoto" they want to hang about our necks would accomplish next to nothing and would therefore be but the beginning of their demands upon us) - it is necessary that the air's CO2 content rise in tandem with any future global warming in order to protect earth's vegetation against the deleterious effects of that warming in places where high temperatures may already be taxing the ability of plants to grow; and that is why even enhanced soil sequestration of carbon could work at cross purposes to the planet's welfare, for CO2 is not only the elixir of life, it is its protector.

If this reasoning sounds rather complicated, it's because it is; and the reason it is, is that nature is complicated, so complicated, in fact, that it is nigh unto impossible to sort out all the interacting factors that combine to determine the state of the environment-biosphere system and make sense of them and their consequences.  All that is sure is this: the burning of fossil fuels has next to no effect on the mean surface air temperature of the globe, as is now admitted by Hansen et al., but it has a tremendous positive effect on the biosphere, as demonstrated by the many Journal Reviews we have posted on this topic and filed in our Subject Index.

These facts argue strongly against our doing anything to alter the way earth's environment-biosphere system is currently evolving, as does the wealth of observational evidence archived on our website, which suggests that the system's current trajectory bodes well for man and nature alike.  The U.S. State Department, on the other hand, continues to dangle carrots in front of the public to further its own machinations, suggesting, in the words of Smaglik, "giving tax credits to companies that plant trees, or crop subsidies to farmers who use no-till methods," all in support of their grand scheme to "make the protocol more palatable to US senators."

We can only hope the American public will see through this insidious charade and put the interests of their country, the world and the biosphere above those of their own immediate monetary gratification and not take the bait being offered them.  Once swallowed, the hook within it will tear the guts out of the U.S. economy when the State Department jerks the line it's fed the country and begins to reel in its prize catch for presentation to the U.S. Senate.  If the bureaucrats are successful, like a fish out of water, we would be helpless to avoid being thrown in the frying pan and browned to an economic crisp.  Global warming would be welcome by comparison.

Dr. Craig D. Idso
Dr. Keith E. Idso
Vice President

Hansen, J., Sato, M., Ruedy, R., Lacis, A. and Oinas, V.  2000.  Global warming in the twenty-first century: An alternative scenario.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA  97: 9875-9880.

Smaglik, P.  2000.  United States backs soil strategy in fight against global warming.  Nature 406: 549-550.