This one caught me totally by surprise: China, India, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the United States (we led the effort) have just signed an international agreement, the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, to “keep climate-changing chemicals out of the atmosphere, especially carbon from fossil fuels.” But rather than the Kyoto-Protocol method of setting target goals for emissions reductions that force de-industrialization among complying nations (of which there are actually very few among the Kyoto signers), this new pact aims to reduce emissions by jointly developing new pollutant-control technologies. (Power Line’s John Hinderaker, the only “SuperLawyer” currently blogging in the ‘sphere, is on the story.)
In a move to counter the Kyoto Protocol that requires mandatory cuts in so-called greenhouse gas emissions, [President Bush] is making the technology pitch as part of a partnership with five Asian and Pacific nations, including China and India. The idea is to get them to commit to cleaner energy production as a way to curtail air pollution that most scientists believe is causing the Earth to warm up.
The administration announced late Wednesday that it has reached an agreement with the five countries to create a new partnership to deploy cleaner technologies whenever possible to produce energy.
I’m one of the most rabid despisers of the global-warming mob (globaloney, that is) and their ham-fisted, Luddite attempt to force industrial Western societies back into the past, the pastoral, preindustrial golden age when everyone was treated with love and respect, and lions lay with lambs in arrangements other than prandial.
So why am I wildly approving of this new greenhouse-gas pact, agreement, whatever one calls it? Well, do the obvious…!
The Collapse of the Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol has been a colossal failure for three distinct reasons: first, the treaty insists on reductions so draconian (7% below the signatory’s greenhouse-gas emissions in 1990, though the treaty was signed in 1997) that the only way an industrialized nation can be in compliance is, in essence, to dramatically de-industrialize, cutting carbon and carbonoid emissions by cutting energy production itself — thus severely damaging the economy, leading to job losses (job loss particularly among the elected officials who actually implement such a boneheaded policy). The natural result of this inexorable logic is that nations typically sign Kyoto — but intend to cheat from the very beginning: the signing is purely symbolic, which of course produces an equally symbolic reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions.
The second major flaw is that the Kyoto Protocol consciously and with malice aforethought excluded developing nations — including China and India, the two largest-population countries in the world, accounting for a third of all the humans on this planet — from any emissions-reduction requirements at all, at least until 2013. This was the reason that the U.S. Senate, in a non-binding test vote, voted unanimously (97 to 0) against the treaty in 1997.
The United States rejected the 1997 Kyoto pact, which requires reductions by industrial nations of greenhouse emissions. Bush said earlier this month he recognizes that human activity contributes to a warmer Earth, but he continues to oppose the Kyoto treaty that all other major industrialized nations signed because developing nations weren’t included in it.
(This is clumsily written, of course; the Times here implies that Kyoto was first rejected under Bush; in fact, although Bill Clinton signed it, he never formally submitted it to the Senate. Nevertheless, the Senate indicated it would reject it if it were presented. When George W. Bush became president, he formally withdrew from the previous administration’s signing of the treaty.)
But the most important reason the Kyoto Protocol was doomed from the start is that it was never anything but science by table-pounding: from the initial findings announced by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) in 1990, to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) signed at the 2nd Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, to the subsequent IPCC findings, to the Conference of Parties III in Kyoto, Japan, to this day, the treaty was always a political, not a scientific, entity. (Resource: A Brief History of the Kyoto Protocol, on Greenpeace’s website.)
Decisions were made by votes, often votes of politicians, not scientists; scientific dissent was squelched. Evidence of other causes for warming besides industrial activity were dismissed; criticisms of the flawed “global circulation models” that were the driving force behind predictions of runaway greenhouse warming were mocked or suppressed; legitimate questions about the extent of “damage” caused by slight warming, mostly occurring during winter nights in the coldest parts of the Earth, were met with hostile accusations instead of hard science; and even evidence of the huge increase in crop growth and resistance to disease and pests that occurs in climates with higher levels of CO2… all were waved away as irrelevant to the urgent task of reducing industrialization in the West. (Strangely, for the New Left, no matter what the problem — global warming, a new ice age, air pollution, food shortages, food gluts — the answer is always the same: smash the looms!)
Nor did the Kyoto Protocol ever indicate how a signatory was supposed to reduce its emissions to 7% below their 1990 level (which for the United States today would mean a reduction of more than 20%, because greenhouse gas emissions rose 13% from 1990 to 2003; see p.3 of the linked pdf). Since the primary source of greenhouse-gas emissions is burning carbon-based fuels like oil, gasoline, natural gas, and coal, the only method of reducing emissions by the target goal of Kyoto — with today’s technology and yesterday’s political climate, pardon the pun — would be to stop producing so much energy. But that 13% rise in emissions from 1990-2003 was accompanied by an increase of forty-six percent in gross domestic product over that same period… and it is simply a fact of life that energy use and GDP are inextricably intertwined.
Enter the New Bush Pact
The qualifiers in the preceding paragraph, “today’s technology and yesterday’s political climate,” are not simply weasel-words: there is a solution to the “problem,” to whatever extent it may exist, of carbon emissions that does not require de-industrialization with the corresponding drop in GDP and employment. That solution would be to develop new and better technology… primarily energy-producing technology that does not depend upon burning things.
Here is the point: an object that is alive (like wood, other plants, animals, or people), or that used to be alive (coal, oil, and natural gas, which are the remains of prehistoric plankton and plants), contains carbon-hydrogen molecules. When you burn such an object, you tear apart these molecules, combine the carbon with oxygen, and you get carbon dioxide, CO2, plus a whole bunch of energy. It’s that energy we use, and it’s the carbon dioxide (also formed when we breath) that global-warming phobics fear. There is no way to burn organic materials without producing CO2; the best you can do is try to capture it as it emits from the smokestack.
But there are many methods of producing energy that do not require burning anything… the most effective of which, in the short-to-medium term (0 to 50 years), are hydroelectric generators and nuclear power plants. Since the former are limited by the number of rivers you’re willing to dam (which causes rather significant environmental change, to say the least!), we should probably concentrate on the latter. Recent radically improved technologies for nuclear fission, including Pebble Bed Modular Reactors (gas-cooled) and Integral Fast Reactors (liquid-metal cooled), already exist in prototype but lack either funding or a favorable political climate for wide-scale development; this new pact may spur such technologies forward, allowing much cheaper, safer, and more reliable electrical generation that does not require burning organic materials and producing either carbon dioxide or pollution.
(Long-term solutions might include solar-power satellites beaming energy via microwaves back to earth, geothermal energy production that taps into the residual heat at the core of the Earth, nuclear fusion instead of fission, and theoretically, at least, the annihilation of matter-antimatter pairs… though we would have to find a ready-made source for the last, since creating antimatter would of course use up more energy than it would produce; could be useful as a sort of “battery,” however, to store large amounts of energy.)
More minor partial-solutions, which by themselves would not help much but wouldn’t particularly hurt, either, would include earthbound solar power, windmills, pure hydrogen (from fuel cells, say), and simply more efficient burning of carbon-based fuels — for example, by the use of high-temperature ceramic engines, which I discussed on Patterico’s Pontifications.
All of these would be dramatically helped by the new Asia Pacific Partnership; in other words, while the globaloney crowd pounds the table and simply insists that we somehow magically reduce carbonoid emissions, President Bush is actually offering solutions to the problem: improved technology in the area that matters most — energy production — along with ancillary technologies that will help scrub emissions of all sorts (inluding garden-variety pollution) from smokestacks and tailpipes.
And of course, there is always the “Tang and Teflon” phenomenon: any significant investment in scientific research, especially in applied research, will produce technological spinoffs that cannot be predicted, and whose effects cannot be anticipated. Space and missile research produced this little spinoff call personal computers, for example — and regardless of what Walter Mondale thinks, I don’t believe the PC is a passing fad.
Finally, the Asia Pacific Partnership is entirely voluntary: the nations agree to share technology because each country believes it’s good for itself; sharing research means quicker and better results. So the pact is self-enforcing: nobody cheats because the incentive is captialism, which entirely favors continuing the partnership.
In the Power Line piece, Hinderaker bemoans the fact that nobody seems to be paying any attention to the numerous ways in which George W. Bush proves his genius by contributing solutions rather than wallowing in problems, as we saw in the last two Democratic administrations.
It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.
But I believe that Bush honestly doesn’t care whether he gets credit or not, so long as long-festering problems are solved. In this sense, George W. Bush is Reaganesque. For that reason, and because of Bush’s willingness to think not only big but sideways, he is destined to be remembered as a great president. If this pact helps the human race to think its way out of the many problems associated with fossil fuels (including pollution, poor engine efficiency, and the finite nature of organic byproducts), then Bush may well be remembered for helping to give future generations the gift of limitless clean energy.