The Relative Unimportance of Global Warming

Global warming has become the preeminent concern of our time. Many governments and most campaigners meeting in Montreal now throughDecember 9tell us that dealing with global warming should be our first priority. Negotiating a follow-up treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, they argue, requires that we seek even deeper cuts in the pollution that causes global warming.

But they are wrong about our priorities, and they are advocating an inefficient remedy. As a result, we risk losing sight of tackling the world’s most important problems first, as well as missing the best long-term approach to global warming.

To be sure, global warming is real, and it is caused by CO2. The trouble is that today’s best climate models show that immediate action will do little good. The Kyoto Protocol will cut CO2 emissions from industrialized countries by 30% below what it would have been in 2010 and by 50% in 2050. Yet, even if everyone (including the United States) lived up to the protocol’s rules, and stuck to it throughout the century, the change would be almost immeasurable, postponing warming for just six years in 2100.

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