Global Warming and Kyoto

The problem of enviromentalism in an industrial world is already tricky enough when we restrict the debate to the realm of fact. The world's transportation, and much of its power generation, is based on the consumption of fossil-fuels. These fuels must be extracted from the earth, which causes a certain amount of damage to the surroundings; more importantly, when they are burned in power plants or automobiles, they produce various waste-products which detract from human health, and perhaps contribute to global climate-change (though this last point is hotly disputed).

Obviously, the world would be much improved if an alternate energy-source such as hydrogen could be put into place, and the private-sector is furiously researching technologies for producing and storing hydrogen. But the technology will come when it comes, and in the meanwhile many enviromentalist groups have arisen calling for sharp cutbacks in the use of fossil-fuels. This must be done, they say, to avert the spectre of "global warming" (never mind that two decades ago, everyone was worried about a new Ice Age).

A major step in this fight against global warming was the creation of the Kyoto Accords, which mandates steep cuts in the production of greenhouse gases, relative to the 1990-level, by the year 2012. In all probability, that time-frame is too short to allow for the significant influence of new technologies—consider the massive effort required to convert every gas station in the world to a hydrogen-pumping station, even if it were feasible today—so the only ways to cut emissions in time are to deploy expensive "scrubbing" equipment, or reduce the use of fossil-fuels.

At this point we must ask the obvious question: is it worth it?

For my premise, I assume that we will transition over to a hydrogen-based economy within thirty years, which is being generous. The hydrogen will be refined using power generated by solar power, fission power, and perhaps even fusion power (there are plans for the construction of an experimental fusion reactor in Japan by 2009). Additionally, solar technology will progress to the point that many homes generate their own power. In other words, greenhouse gases will cease to be a problem.

How much damage can the modern economy do to the world in thirty years? I submit that the answer is negligible. How much damage can the poorly-designed Kyoto Accords do to the people of the world? It depends.

First, it is important to realize that at present, fuel use is proportional to energy use. Hence, as China and India continue industrializing, their use of oil will skyrocket. China is not a signatory to the Kyoto Accords. Therefore, the ability of the Kyoto Accords to really limit greenhouse-gas production is limited at best.

Second, at present oil is the cheapest, most portable and energy-dense form of power that we possess. Until the technology exists to replace it, oil is the only thing allowing the modern world to have easy transportation and manufacturing, which have been the cause of so much good for humanity. Granted that there is significant room for more efficient use of oil, particularly with respect to American cars; but to push this process to the point where it is no longer economical translates into wasted money, that could have otherwise gone towards easing human suffering.

Finally, it is hardly certain that global warming is in fact a problem at all. (As I sit here in New York City, I devoutly wish that the temperature would rise a few degrees.) Atmospheric data collected by NASA have shown time and again that the temperature-changes in the Earth have slowed to a crawl; moreover, the polar ice caps are actually growing. Environmentalists tend to disregard atmospheric data, preferring instead to use surface-data. But such data is tainted by the Heat-Island Effect, which is simply a byproduct of urban crowding and construction. Perhaps this is why this data is preferred by environmentalists…

There are many good reasons to transition away from fossil-fuels, and I will applaud the day when it happens (and if I get access to the capital, I intend to work to bring that day closer). But we cannot allow our analysis of the costs and benefits of fossil-fuels to be skewed by questionable science, no matter how many people believe in it. There was a time when everybody was convinced that the world was flat, in spite of compelling evidence to the contrary. In many ways, we have regressed to that time.

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