U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Majority Fact of the Day

DECEMBER 12, 2006



Climate Change: Can you fight global warming by paying more for a plane ticket and still drive your Lexus to the airport? It seems that environmentalists and their money are soon parted. King Canute is said to be the poster child for futility, sitting on the seashore, as the legend goes, commanding that the waves retreat. Actually, he's the epitome of common sense, for, as Clint Eastwood would say, the man knew his limitations. He knew he had no power over the waves and, being a religious man, was trying to prove a point: that the power of the mightiest kings pales in comparison to the power of nature and the God that rules over it.

But there are modern-day Canutes who don't know their limitations and who overestimate their ability to affect what many scientists, contrary to news reports, consider a natural cycle — the historical warming and cooling of Earth. But rather than curtailing the activities they believe are contributing to imminent and disastrous climate change, they want to have their cake and eat it too, creating a cottage industry in the buying and selling of "emission credits," which may be more about feeling good than doing good.

A recent Associated Press story details the conscience-easing of San Jose State University professor Jill Cody, who can continue to drive her Lexus 6,000 miles a year guilt-free because she made a contribution to a San Francisco company called TerraPass, which takes her money and invests in wind power and reducing farm pollution, giving her a sticker to put on her car. Nice thought, but consider that after decades of investment and subsidies wind turbines are better at slicing and dicing endangered birds than producing a significant amount of power. And speaking of farms, a U.N. report has identified flatulent livestock as a source for 18% of the greenhouse gases said to cause global warming — more than cars, planes and other forms of transport put together. Putting a TerraPass sticker on a cow is a different proposition. TerraPass charges customers of Expedia.com $5.99 to offset the carbon generated from one seat on a 2,200-mile flight. A Virginia group, the Conservation Fund, lets consumers offset their emissions by paying to plant trees — another good intention, but one that seems to acknowledge the fact that carbon dioxide is the source of life on Earth and not a pollutant.

Sharing these delusions of grandeur are 70 cities that last year reportedly reduced carbon dioxide emissions by an aggregate total of 23 million tons. To put this in perspective, legislation introduced this year in the California Legislature pledged to reduce California emissions by 145 million tons by 2020.

Sounds like a lot. But as we've noted before, it's only three-tenths of 1% of the 42.6 billion (with a "b") tons the world is expected to emit that year. The worst-case U.N. computer models project a 1.3-degree rise in Earth's temperature by then. So, by our math, knocking out California's 145 million tons would reduce this by four one-thousandths of a degree, an amount too small to measure.

There's something bizarre about the town of Meridian, Miss. — where nearly 30% of the people live in poverty — signing on to the Kyoto goals, which are a recipe for global poverty. Estimates by the Energy Information Administration estimated losses as high as 4.2% a year to U.S. GDP by 2010 if we had agreed to Kyoto'a anti-growth agenda. Towns like Meridian have their work cut out for them, especially considering that many Kyoto signatories have not only missed their Kyoto targets, but also actually increased emission levels.

Not all embrace Kyoto. Every seven to 10 days, another coal-fired plant opens somewhere in China that's big enough to serve all households in San Diego. China and India (whose population is expected to outstrip China's by 2030) are among the world's biggest markets for cars like professor Cody's Lexus.

King Canute, call your office.

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