Washington's Sudden Climate Change

Article excerpt

Proposals to cut greenhouse gases are flying around Washington like confetti in a hurricane, with President Bush tossing out his ideas in Tuesday night's State of the Union message. What's needed in this debate is full disclosure on the difficulty of the task.

Start with Kyoto. From the atmosphere's standpoint, the treaty's goal of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions from industrial countries by an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012 will barely slow the rate of increase in CO2 concentrations, even with full compliance by its main participants, Europe, Canada, and Japan. The framers knew that but felt they had to start somewhere. And those nations are now groaning over the burdens, with many not close to compliance.

Kyoto also inherently acknowledges the difficulty of simply cutting emissions. So industries are allowed to earn "credits" if they pay for "green" energy projects elsewhere. But even that global enterprise has many difficulties.

In the US, meanwhile, some noble attempts to tackle global warming are proving awkward. The University of Colorado, for instance, plans to shut down an old gas-fired cogeneration plant that provides both steam and electricity for its Boulder campus. But while it will build a new gas-plant just for steam, it has to buy electricity from a coal-burning utility - increasing CO2 emissions, even as the city of Boulder tries to meet emissions goals.

Public opinion may have shifted toward acting on global warming, but people haven't fully grasped the uncertainties, costs, and difficulties. That leaves the debate vulnerable to wild claims of either pain or painlessness in taking steps to curb emissions. …


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