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FYI Number 62: May 11, 2001

Senior Bush Official Outlines Administration's Approach to Global Warming

The Keynote Address at last week's AAAS Colloquium on Science and Technology Policy was delivered by Lawrence B. Lindsey, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy. Lindsey opened his speech by declaring:

"We all know that scientific research lies behind our nation's long-term economic success. As I will make clear this morning, good science is also the key to both defining and addressing many of the great policy challenges facing our country. That is why I am here today to talk to you candidly about energy and global climate change. Ultimately it will be your work - in laying the foundation for new technologies and increasing our understanding of the world around us - that will enable our nation to address these important policy challenges."

Lindsey devoted the remainder of his remarks to energy and global climate change. His entire address can be viewed here. Lindsey's remarks on the Bush Administration's position on global climate change follow:

"This financial math is important when considering some of the biggest environmental challenges one faces today. When confronting long-run challenges - and the environment is certainly one of these - investments in the research and development of new technologies, with actual applications decades in the future, are far more cost-effective than trying to act with existing technologies.

"It is for precisely this reason that the Administration opposes the Kyoto protocol for precisely this reason. We believe the Kyoto protocol could damage our collective prosperity and, in so doing, actually put our long-term environmental health at risk. Fundamentally, we believe that the protocol both will fail to significantly reduce the long- term risks posed by climate change and, in the short run, will seriously impede our ability to meet our energy needs and economic growth. Further, by imposing high regulatory and economic costs, it may actually reduce our capacity both to find innovative ways out of the environmental consequences of global warming and to achieve the necessary increases in energy production.

"First, consider the supposed benefits of Kyoto. Under the terms of the agreement, the estimated level of greenhouse gases expected in the year 2100 will instead be put off by about a little over a decade.

"Few of the developed nations who say they support the treaty have, in fact, undertaken domestic policies to lend credibility to the idea that they will meet Kyoto's targets. The two leading exceptions are Britain and Germany. In Britain's case, the abandonment of intensive use of coal and a switch to utilization of new natural gas discoveries made the conversion fairly easy.

"In Germany's case, the inclusion of the industrial base of the former DDR after reunification in the treaty's1990 base year made attainment easy. It would have been cost effective to shut down much of East Germany's highly polluting electricity generation even without Kyoto. Looking at the other nations, attainment of the Treaty's goals is not realistic. A further 27% reduction by Japan, and a 22% reduction by Canada are as unlikely as the 30% reduction by the U.S. from its projected 2010 levels.

"Of course, a large amount of the environmental failing of the Kyoto treaty is based on its lack of inclusiveness. Much of the projected growth in greenhouse gas emissions is likely to come from the developing world. How one deals with this issue is crucial to both increasing the quality of life for the great majority of people on this planet as well as for success in controlling global warming.

"It should also be noted that the treaty does little to promote investment in new technologies even though these advances offer the greatest long-term potential reward both in terms of reducing the effects of global warming and raising the quality of life on the planet. Recall that technological solutions are most likely to succeed if investment and research are allowed to take place over a long period of time. Kyoto, by requiring dramatic up-front reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by those countries with the greatest ability to do such research, turns this on its head. The treaty makes innovation largely irrelevant by imposing onerous restrictions before technological solutions can be developed. Kyoto compounds this problem by making no requirements for much longer-term greenhouse gas emission reductions or for mitigation of the environmental effects of global warming.

"Indeed, while the degree of uncertainty now associated with the science of global warming suggests some modesty about the degree of the certainty attached to any action, the treaty requires that America and other advanced nations commit enormous amounts of resources to the project. These resources must be expended today, when uncertainty is high, while little is required in the distant future, when uncertainty might be significantly lower.

"A study done by the Clinton Administration estimated that the Kyoto protocol would involve costs of between 0.6 percent and 4 percent of GDP. Electricity prices would run anywhere between 20 and 86 percent higher than current levels. There would also be an increase in gasoline prices of between 14 and 66 cents per gallon. In light of the very limited environmental benefits, a commitment as structured as this is not prudent.

"Worse, the treaty goes out of its way to raise these costs. This anti-economic reasoning involves treaty-imposed inflexibility in allowing the use of a number of creative options. As a practical matter, proponents of Kyoto have worked against such promising solutions as reforestation and more sensible agricultural land use that would likely provide enormous quality of life externalities for people on all parts of the planet. These options should not be excluded from consideration.

"And of course, it is natural that the United States government would object to a treaty that requires twice as much reduction in emissions from the United States as from Europe and Japan combined. This is not a judgment of the Bush Administration, but reflects a long-standing view of the political process. In 1997, the Senate approved a resolution by a vote of 95-0 not to ratify the Kyoto agreement in its present form. In last year's Presidential election, neither party platform supported ratification of the Kyoto Treaty.

"We oppose this failed attempt at negotiating a solution to excessive emissions of greenhouse gases. Sound public policy should encourage efficiency, not dictate austerity by telling families and businesspeople to choose how to ensure their health, safety, and happiness by restricting the efficient use of energy.

While our plan reduces wasteful use of energy, it does not seek to shrink our economy or lower living standards. People work very hard to get where they are. And the hardest working are the least likely to go around squandering energy, or anything else that costs them money. Our strategy will recognize that the present crisis does not represent a failing of the American people.

"To speak exclusively of conservation, of environmental protection or of increased energy production, is really to duck responsibility for all the consequences of what one proposes. Sound, comprehensive energy, economic and climate change policies require that we focus on multiple objectives. Happily, if we make the right decisions today and establish an environment where innovation can flourish, these objectives are achievable - and mutually reinforcing. America's energy and environmental challenges are serious, but not insurmountable. Most important: it is impossible to understate the role that science and technology will play in solving these problems."

Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3095

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