Saturday, February 19, 2005

Kyoto and Global Warming

A few days ago the Kyoto climate change treaty came into effect. This treaty is an agreement between most countries on Earth meant to limit the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that mankind adds to the atmosphere. Although the US signed the Kyoto treaty, a Republican dominated Congress later repudiated it and the the current Republican president has denounced it. Although there has been talk, no alternative US policy to limit CO2 emisions has been put in place.

Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may be contributing to an increase in global temperature. There is a political controversy over whether the temperature increase is real and whether or not people are causing it, but most scientists familiar with the data agree the problem is real and at least partly man-made. Regardless of the details of this debate, some things are crystal clear:

1. The atmosphere is vital to our minute-to-minute survival.

2. We don't understand the atmosphere well enough to predict the consequences of adding stuff to it.

3. There is substantial evidence that we are adding enough stuff to measurably affect the atmosphere.

4. It's a bad idea to screw around with vital life support systems you don't understand.

Kyoto has, I'm sure, like any treaty, many problems. It has one shinning virtue -- a large fraction of the countries on Earth agreed to dump less stuff into the atmosphere.

I suspect Republicans oppose the treaty because big oil is a major supporter, and Kyoto would probably limit big oil's profits somewhat. This would reduce Republican power. There are many other examples of Republican actions and proposals which are arguably driven by oil (think Iraq, for example). They have plenty of smart guys who can come up with rational arguments, but I suspect the real reason for these actions boils down to power (similar arguments can be made about other political groups, of course).

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