Any topic so loaded with economic and geopolitical significance as global warming is bound to bring heated differences of opinion. That’s the way it has been in the USA, which has (rightly, both in my view and the view of the authors) declined to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. The USA has also found ways to use fossil fuels much more efficiently thanks to free-market ingenuity, and witnessed strenuous arguments over the cost in jobs, growth, and economic opportunity from artificial constraints on energy use as mandated by Kyoto. Kyoto’s premise is that global warming is caused directly by carbon dioxide emissions: if that hypothesis is speculative, as I believe it is, we have to ask what kinds of costs we should be willing to bear to combat global warming, a phenomenon whose chain of causation is far from proven.
As Brian O’Connell and Martyn Turner make clear, the situation in Europe is far different than that in the USA, with global warming theory accepted as gospel and the costs of cutting carbon emissions universally approved. At least they were universally approved until this year’s upsurge in fuel prices, which has conversely caused much more political turmoil in Europe than in America. That is not surprising, though, when we consider that Europe has a long tradition of both high fuel taxes and a higher tax burden than the USA overall. The reasons why global warming theory is taken as gospel in Europe are more complex. In part they stem from the iron linkage of non-governmental organizations and the