The Kyoto Protocol and the Carbon Tax: The Costly Politics of Global Environmentalism, Part 4 of 4

by | Apr 24, 2000 | Environment

There is a catch here, of course. If these countries have plentiful emission credits for sale, then their price will not be very high and perhaps quite low. This means that the United States would be able to buy permits cheaply, and proceed as if the Kyoto Protocol did not exist. In other words, the […]

There is a catch here, of course. If these countries have plentiful emission credits for sale, then their price will not be very high and perhaps quite low. This means that the United States would be able to buy permits cheaply, and proceed as if the Kyoto Protocol did not exist. In other words, the existence of large unused quotas of emission permits means that the emissions will continue as before Kyoto and the atmospheric concentration will be little changed.

But if the quotas are set tightly, then prices will be at the high end. The cost will be passed along to the consumer by power stations and industries, in addition to the direct expenditures for transportation and heating. The vaunted trading scheme then will become mostly a carbon tax. By making energy costly in the United States, it will cause industry and jobs to move overseas where there are no restrictions — exactly what the Senate Resolution tries to oppose.

We have not even dealt in depth with the problem of accounting, measuring, monitoring, enforcement, and sanctions. The details of all of these are mind- boggling and likely to involve lengthy negotiations. They certainly represent an intrusion upon industries and consumers in the United States by a bureaucracy which is controlled by an international elite that is not responsive to voters since they are not elected. In many ways, this is one of the most objectionable and disagreeable aspects of any protocol that tries to limit emissions on an international basis.

Then with all these problems and with so little scientific and economic justification, why the support for Kyoto within the Administration and many other sectors of society? There are of course several different strands here; it is useful to disentangle them and discuss them separately. There is, first of all, a large group of people without any hidden agenda who simply believe that global warming is real, is here today, and is posing a threat to their welfare and to the welfare of their children and grandchildren. Let’s refer to them as the upper-middle-class, over-anxious. (Perhaps they can be educated, but this will require a major effort.) Working-class men and women, and especially organized labor, are not likely to share these views, being more concerned about the immediate loss of jobs than about a future problematic warming.

We then have groups that gain directly from the KYOTO PROTOCOL in one way or another. Scientists of all stripes get more funds for research; not just climate experts, but also social scientists and even theologians who ponder the ethics of environmental change. Bureaucrats see their power increase as their budgets grow; they receive perks, recognition, and the ability to control the lives of others. Environmental activists, and especially their well-paid leaders, share some of the same objectives; perhaps that’s why they work so well with government. The media find disasters of any kind irresistible – even if fictitious; they sell newspapers and air time on TV. Many consulting groups and industries receive direct financial benefits from the two-billion-dollar-a-year research budget of the federal government. And don’t forget the finance ministers, who see this as a convenient way of raising additional revenue through a large-scale energy tax or carbon tax — basically a consumption tax. Like a gasoline tax, it is regressive but it is easy to control — and is touted to be kind to the environment. And it also permits more government spending – which gets us back to those who receive the funds.

But we also have groups with broader agenda, some of them open, some others hidden. The one-worlders see this as opportunity to strengthen world government. Global warming is of little concern to them except as a means of setting up UN bodies to supplant national sovereignty. A different agenda belongs to the anti-growth and anti-technology advocates who want to de-industrialize the United States and other developed countries. Ironically, most of them also oppose nuclear power, the major non-CO2-emitting energy source today. Some of them have a romantic view of returning to a pre-industrial rural existence; others are driven by less noble ideals. Here we have the core of all the environmental movements, including the neo-Malthusians who believe that we are running out of resources — that the world is facing disaster unless we cut back on growth.

Finally, there are the neo-pagans, who put nature above mankind, worship plants and animals, and consider humans to be outside of nature. Examples of this kind of thinking abound: the Morelia Declaration signed by a group of scientists, or the remarkable testament of Al Gore’s “thinking” in The Earth in Balance.

Originally published in the World and I, December 1999, pages 331-341. Reprinted with permission.

S. Fred Singer is the founder and president of the Science & Environmental Policy Project.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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