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PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 11:04 pm    Post subject: Color Me Green : The road from Bali. Reply with quote

Color Me Green
The road from Bali.

by Irwin M. Stelzer
12/18/2007 12:00:00 AM

WHEN BOB HOPE, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour took "The Road to Bali," they left from Australia. Over 50 years later Kevin Rudd, Australia's newly elected prime minister, headed to Bali for a more serious purpose: to sign the Kyoto protocol, to the cheers of the assembled 15,000--or is it 20,000--ministers, advocacy groups, journalists, and suntan-hunting politicians meeting on the Indonesian island to plan future assaults on greenhouse gases. That, along with Al Gore's angry attacks on America--no one can hate his country as much as a politician rejected by it, as Jimmy Carter has proved--provided the momentum for a combination of America-bashing and position-trading that resulted in a new roadmap. This one is designed to take its followers to, well, another meeting, this one in 2009. There, negotiations will start in earnest for a replacement of the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012.

"Color them green," warbled Barbra Streisand. That was in 1963, and she was singing about her envious eyes. But flash forward to today and those words would equally apply to the myriad players in the let's-make-environmental-and-energy-policy game. We are all green now. The green wave is rolling, and has drowned those who doubt whether the earth is really warming, and question the role of human activity in any warming that might be occurring.

The physical science question having been resolved to the satisfaction of the greens, the question now becomes just what to do. Here we find strange bedfellows: oil producers and environmentalists.

The OPEC oil cartel, which
recently met in Abu Dhabi, and the Bali conferees might not know it, but they have a common goal: high oil prices. The producers want to keep crude oil prices high so that the massive shift in wealth from consuming countries to their sovereign wealth funds continues.

The greens favor high oil prices because consumers use less of the stuff when it costs more, and because high prices for oil make other forms of energy more competitive in the market place. Nuclear power, solar energy, wind power or any of the other substitutes for fossil fuels can become more economically viable only if oil prices stay about where they are--and politicians stump up some generous subsidies, skeptics would add.

Meanwhile, the hunt for the proverbial free lunch is on. The most efficient way to cut down on the use of fossil fuels is to make then more expensive by taxing them, or the emissions they create. But politicians are unenthusiastic about transparency in the cost of cleaning up the environment. So most proposals to cut carbon emissions are built around a single proposition: hide their cost from the voters.

Motor vehicles always come in for special attention. Congress would require auto companies to increase the fuel efficiency of their fleets, but fail to mention that the cost will be reflected in the price of cars and the higher death toll associated with lighter vehicles. Politicians with their eyes on Iowa's voters--in this as in so many other matters John McCain stands apart, and speaks truth to hostile audiences--want to mandate major increases in the use of ethanol, but do not mention that current mandates have already driven up the price of corn and wheat, and of meat and poultry, by making animal feed more expensive. Consumers of electricity will also pay for cooling the world if utilities are required to obtain more of their electricity from expensive renewable sources and nuclear power. And new taxes on oil producers, a favorite of Nancy Pelosi & Company, will certainly drive up prices for gasoline and heating oil.

Even the emerging favorite in the United States and Europe, a cap on emissions followed by a trading of permits, is a hide-the-cost device: costs of compliance will be passed on as higher prices. So the blame will go to auto manufacturers, supermarkets, electric utilities, and oil companies, the applause to politicians. All so politicians can avoid the transparent device of a tax on carbon or carbon emissions, which can, after all, be offset by reductions in other taxes.

Which brings us back to Bali, where the negotiators had two main tasks. The first was to formulate an agenda that keeps America in the emissions-reduction game, which they seem to have accomplished by a combination of pressure and the application of a dollop of fudge to the final draft agreement. The second was to attract the developing countries, most notably China and India, into the game, which they have accomplished with promises of goodies for developing nations--these from developed nations that have yet to honor their pledges of financial support to Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether the agreed "roadmap" will prove as useless as the one designed to bring peace to Israel remains to be seen. Words on paper are not quite the same thing as real reductions in emissions.

That's because so-called clean sources of energy have their own problems. Nuclear advocates are pushing their emissions-free technology, and plans for 32 new plants are on U.S. drawing boards. But significant progress is unlikely until political opposition to plans for the disposal of nuclear waste
can be overcome. Ask Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada senator and majority leader, when he plans to welcome the stuff into the Yucca Mountain disposal site, and you'll know when serious construction work will begin.

Nor will renewables provide a free lunch. Offshore wind power, the poster-boy du jour of Greenpeace, "is more expensive than gas-fired," notes Alan Moore, who is no less than the managing director of National Wind Power. And those awful windmills might ruin his view, says environmental advocate Ted Kennedy; he is leading the battle against an offshore wind farm visible from his family's waterfront compound on Cape Cod.

Meanwhile, lurking in the background is the environmentalists' bÍte noire, coal. China forges ahead with construction of so many coal-fired generating stations that it will displace America as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases even if all of the 45 new coal-fired power plants under construction or already permitted, and the 76 in early stages of development in America, come into service.

So it's going to be a hard road from Bali to a reduction in carbon emissions, and nowhere near as much fun as Bob Hope and gang had on The Road To Bali. The United States, Canada, China and a few other important players are not quite ready to join Streisand in singing "Color Me Green."

Irwin M. Stelzer is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD, director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute, and a columnist for the Sunday Times (London).

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Color Me Green : The road from Bali.

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