A Free-Market Energy Blog

As the Kyoto Protocol Dies, Remember Those Who Called It (Part II)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- December 27, 2012

Yesterday’s post presented a series of quotations on why a global agreement to ration the most utilitarian of energies–oil, gas, and coal–was doomed to failure. Today, Part II provides a series of quotations on the moral dilemma and economic distortions of trying to do so.

From this the question arises: what if the resources and spirit dedicated to the futile, misdirected climate crusade went instead to the truly noble cause of promoting capitalism and industrialization for the 1.3 billion living in statist poverty?

It is time to change minds one at a time to the heroic task of promoting human freedom to advance prosperity at home and abroad–an inspiration for many of us going in 2013.

More quotations follow on the pernicious wealth effects and all-pain/no-gain aspects of carbon rationing as envisioned by the Kyoto Protocol.

Wealth Effects (Pernicious)

“In reality, Kyoto was a huge transfer of resources from the United States to the Third World, under the guise of environmental protection.”

– Charles Krauthammer, “The Bush Doctrine: ABM, Kyoto, and the New American Unilateralism,” The Weekly Standard, June 4, 2001, p. 23.

“It will be nearly impossible to slow warming appreciably without condemning much of the world to poverty unless energy sources that emit little or no carbon dioxide become competitive with conventional fossil fuels.”

– Henry Jacoby et al., “Kyoto’s Unfinished Business,” Foreign Affairs, July-August 1998, p. 61.

“The Kyoto Protocol has significant distributional consequences. Annex I countries pay the costs of Protocol. These costs will come either through abatement activities or through purchase of permits. The lion’s share of these costs are borne by the United States—the U.S. pays almost two-thirds of the global cost in the central Annex I case.:

– Henry Jacoby and Ian Sue Wing, “Adjustment Time, Capital Malleability and Policy Cost,” The Energy Journal, Kyoto Special Issue, p. 126.

Climate Impacts (Negligible)

“Three scenarios for post-Kyoto emissions reductions [indicate that] . . . the long-term consequences are small. . . . The influence of the Protocol would, furthermore, be undetectable for many decades.”

– T.M.L. Wigley, “The Kyoto Protocol: CO2, CH4 and Climate Implications,” Geophysical Research Letters, July 1, 1998, pp. 2285, 2288.

“In percentage terms, the higher sea level values are reduced the least [by the Kyoto Protocol]. As noted in Kattenberg, et al. (1996) and Raper, et al (1996), the prospects for stabilizing sea level over coming centuries are remote, so it is not surprising that the Protocol has such minor effects.”

– T.M.L. Wigley, “The Kyoto Protocol: CO2, CH4 and Climate Implications,” Geophysical Research Letters, July 1, 1998, p. 2288.

“The laws of physics are not about to change. Set your agenda by what’s happening in the atmosphere, not by what is happening in the artificial world of Kyoto.”

– Ross McKitrick, “What’s Wrong With Regulating Carbon Dioxide Emissions?,” Cooler Heads Briefing Paper, October 11, 2001, p. 12.

“Jerry Mahlman, director of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton, adds that ‘It might take another 30 Kyotos over the next century’ to cut global warming down to size.'”

– David Malakoff, “Thirty Kyotos Needed to Control Warming,” Science, December 19, 1997, p. 2048.

“The Kyoto target itself does little to combat the rate of climate change [a reduction of 0.05° by 2050] . . . . We should, therefore, be thinking seriously about how we can best adapt to climate change.”

– Staff Article, “Adapting to the Inevitable,” Nature, October 22, 1998, p. 741.

“To stabilize carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at double the present levels, we must reduce our carbon emissions by 60 to 70 percent. The math is unfortunately very clear, and demonstrates the inexorable magnitude of the problem. Society will not lower emissions by 60 to 70 percent without major changes in its fundamental approach to energy use and conservation.”

– Thomas Casten, Turning Off the Heat: Why America Must Double Energy Efficiency to Save Money and Reduce Global Warming (New York: Prometheus Books, 1998), p. 120.

“Even if the [Kyoto] protocol were to enter into effect immediately, the cuts it mandated would fall far short of stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases—as had been clear for a long time. The Kyoto cuts would only slow down the rate of increase in overall atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. Further cuts would be required if concentrations were to be stabilized. . . . A substantial measure of climate change is unavoidable.”

– William Stevens, The Change in the Weather: People, Weather, and the Science of Climate (New York: Bell Publishing, 1999), p. 310.

“The impact of the Kyoto Protocol on global temperature is quite modest, especially for the first century. The reduction in global mean temperature in the Annex I case relative to the reference in 2100 is 0.13ºC; this compares with a difference of 0.17ºC from the Kyoto Protocol calculated by Wigley (1998). The temperature reduction in the optimal run is essentially the same as the Kyoto runs by the 22nd century.”

– Henry Jacoby and Ian Sue Wing, “Adjustment Time, Capital Malleability and Policy Cost,” The Energy Journal, Kyoto Special Issue, p. 104.

“The different [alternative] policies reduce damages by only a modest amount. Indeed, one of the surprises is how little the policies affect the damages from global warming. The reasons are that, because there is so much inertia in the climate system and because the Protocol reduced the global temperature increase by only a fraction of a degree over the next century.”

– Henry Jacoby and Ian Sue Wing, “Adjustment Time, Capital Malleability and Policy Cost,” The Energy Journal, Kyoto Special Issue, p. 122.

“The attainment of the Kyoto targets will only be the beginning of what needs to be sustained over many decades if atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are to be stabilized. Industrialized countries cannot stabilize concentration levels on their own; even if they reduced their emissions to zero, expected growth in the rest of the world would be too high. Under the ‘business as usual’ scenario . . . the share of emissions originating from non-OECD countries may rise from around 38% today to 50-60% by 2020.”

– Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Sustainable Development: Critical Issues (Paris: OECD, 2001), p. 316.

“It is estimated that a 60–80 percent reduction in worldwide CO2 emissions will be necessary to stabilize atmospheric concentrations at 1990 levels, compared to a 5.2 percent reduction from 1990 levels—for developed countries only—in the Kyoto Protocol. [Tom] Wigley [of the National Center for Atmospheric Research] has estimated the number of needed Kyotos at ten, while Jerry Mahlman of Princeton’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, a noted alarmist, has estimated thirty to cancel out the human influence on climate.

With imperfect Kyotos, this range would widen. The Kyoto Protocol, in short, is a climatic non-event, leaving its sponsors with symbolism in the short run and the need for multiple Kyotos over the medium and long terms. Such regulation gets an interventionist train out of the station, opening a Pandora’s box of regulation and international trade restrictions that promises to distort the energy market for many years, indeed decades, to come.”

– Robert Bradley Jr., Julian Simon and the Triumph of Energy Sustainability (Washington: American Legislative Exchange Council, 2000), p. 117.

“The ratification of [the Kyoto Protocol] represents a small but essential first step toward stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. It will help create a base on which to build an equitable agreement between all countries in the developed and developing worlds for the more substantial reductions that will be necessary by the middle of the century.”

– A Statement of the World’s Scientific Academics, “The Science of Climate Change,” Editorial, Science, May 18, 2001, p. 1261.

(Present) Costs vs. (Distant) Benefits = Fail

“It appears that the emissions trajectory prescribed in the Kyoto Protocol is neither optimal in balancing the costs and benefits of climate change mitigation, nor cost effective in leading to stabilization of the concentration of carbon dioxide at any level above about 500 ppmv.”

– John Weyant and Jennifer Hill, “Introduction and Overview,” to “The Costs of the Kyoto Protocol: A Multi-Model Evaluation,” The Energy Journal, Special Issue, International Association for Energy Economics, 1999, p. xliv.

“Sensible policies on global warming should weight the costs of slowing climate change against the benefits of slower climate change. Ironically, recent policy initiatives, such as the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, have been introduced without any attempt to link the emissions controls with the benefits of the lower emissions.”

– William Nordhaus and Joseph Boyer, Warming the World: Economic Models of Global Warming (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2000), p. 69.

“Attempts to estimate the impacts of climate change continue to be highly speculative.”

– William Nordhaus and Joseph Boyer, Warming the World: Economic Models of Global Warming (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2000), p. 98.

“It is impossible to read these papers without getting a sense of the unease even the best minds in the profession feel about discounting, due to the technical complexity of the issues and to their ethical ramifications. . . . There is no mistaking the very small present value of even very large costs and benefits if they will not be realized for hundreds of years. . . . It is hard not to be stunned by the small difference that the distant future makes for present-day decisionmaking. . . . Climate change was the example that motivated much of the discussion at the workshop, although the conclusions regarding discounting can be generalized to all intergenerational decisionmaking.”

– Paul Portney and John Weyant, Discounting and Intergenerational Equity (Washington: Resources for the Future, 1999), pp. 4-5.

“Kyoto costs a lot, does nothing to prevent calamity, and pays no compensation in the event of loss. If my insurance broker offered that sort of policy, I would not carry insurance. Instead what my broker offers is a policy that costs a little and pays full compensation in the event of loss. If someone wants to propose that as a policy on global warming, I’m all in favour.”

– Ross McKitrick, “What’s Wrong With Regulating Carbon Dioxide Emissions?,” Cooler Heads Coalition Briefing Paper, October 11, 2001, p. 11.


  1. Ed Reid  

    “You’ve got to be careful, if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might end up somewhere else.”, Yogi Berra, American philosopher

    In the ~35 years since the end of the global cooling panic, after the expenditure of more than $100 billion by the US alone, there is still no unique, broadly accepted GOAL for ultimate percentage reduction in global annual CO2 emissions, no PLAN to achieve that goal and no TIMELINE for such an effort. Simply, with regard to global annual CO2 reductions, we don’t know where we are going. That makes discussion of potential approaches to achieving a reduction, if you’ll pardon the expression, rather academic. Many technologies which might be useful if the ultimate reduction percentage was 50% would be totally useless if 100% reduction was required, as stated by Dr. James Hansen of NASA GISS.

    Incrementalism is probably the most investment intensive possible approach to addressing an issue requiring massive investments. While one might hope that the “answer” lies somewhere between the Kyoto reductions and the Hansen 100% reduction, that is not certain.

    Shelley Berman used to do a standup routine in which he recounted the final moment of a deathbed conversation between the dying Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Toklas asks: “Gertrude, Gertrude, what is the answer?” to which Miss Stein replies: “What is the question?” Then she dies.

    I am not convinced we yet know what the question is. I am convinced we do not know the answer.


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