Even If Global Warming Is True, Clinton's Policy Is Wrong

Article excerpt

The Clinton administration is taking a position in international negotiations on global-warming policy that defies common sense.

This is not going to be another broadside on the shaky scientific basis for being concerned about the earth's rate of temperature rise, although serious scientists do disagree on the subject. For the sake of argument, let us assume that there is a sufficient link between fossil fuel usage, greenhouse gas emissions, atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2), and global warming to warrant a new and tough policy to respond to what is now called "climate change." Taxes on specific energy sources (those releasing substantial amounts of CO2) seem to be the preferred tool of public policy. Alternatives being considered include auctioning of emissions rights (similar to the existing approach under the new Clean Air Act).

The negotiations on climate change being held at the United Nations focus on mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions after 2000. Before then, emissions are supposed to return to the 1990 level, but only Germany and the United Kingdom are expected to meet that goal. Most economic analyses of this issue bog down in measuring detailed impacts of carbon taxes on different regions and economic sectors. Such detailed studies are useful, especially in providing information on employment effects. But they shift attention from the fundamental deficiency in the UN's - and the administration's - current global warming policy: It limits required cuts in carbon dioxide emissions to nations already doing the most to control air pollution, mainly the US and Western Europe. Worse yet, developing nations are excluded from these requirements. Thus such fast-growing countries as South Korea, Brazil, Mexico, and China will be free to expand their use of fossil fuels and other CO2 emitters while we curtail our use. Consider the consequences, which State Department negotiators have soft-pedaled. Curbing our use of coal, oil, and other fossil fuels - which is the intended result of any energy tax or other CO2 control device - would be a substantial blow to important energy-using industries in the US. …