Thursday, December 30, 2004

Kyoto, China, and the Lessons of Acid Rain

New Power Plant Capacity by 2012 - link:

As a grade-school kid in the late 60s/early 70s I recall being shown movies of vast stretches of America's forests being decimated by Acid Rain, a phenomenon through which SO2 and other noxious chemicals from fossil-fuel burning power plants would fall from the atmosphere during rain, snow, or fog.

A combination of new scrubber technology, national and local legislation, and American ingenuity has virtually eliminated this bleak scenario from our classrooms and our forests.

Enter the Kyoto Protocol. The definition of "pollution" has now been expanded to include CO2, a natural by-product of human activity. As noted here, humans account for a small fraction of total CO2 and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, yet Kyoto, which places caps on CO2 emissions, is supposed to have a positive effect on global climate by reducing those gases. Assuming that there is a causal link between human activity and an unnatural rise in temperatures (only for argument's sake - see this, this, and this), then, per the graph above, Kyoto is obsolete before it is even adopted.

Scheduled power plant construction, and their CO2 outputs, will, by 2012, simply dwarf any expected decrease of emissions (per above graphic). And the developing countries of China and India are primarily to "blame."

Adding political realism to this discussion, Victor Davis Hanson notes:

"We may still rant about the American rejection of Kyoto. But is anyone alarmed over the hundreds of coal plants sprouting up in India and China to ensure billions of people that there will be enough energy for a possible future lifestyle of the type we now take for granted in Santa Barbara and Nantucket? In short, we will soon enter an age in which China may well change the world's environment, affect the price of oil, and govern the world's trade as much as the United States — and will care almost nothing about what Western liberals say. . ."

And then the kicker:

"What will Earth First do when this socialist behemoth (China) sprouts its oil rigs in the Arctic tundra and pristine seas?"

China, India, and the developing world should be the focus of the Kyoto debate. Economic growth, technological progress, wealth creation, and liberal democracies lead to environmentally-sound practices, as in the conquest over acid rain. . . the question should be how we bring the developing world into living standards and technological capabilities that foster prudent environmental policies over the long term - that, it seems, is a function of economic growth, not regulation, intelligently applied.