(Part of the How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic guide)

Objection: The Kyoto treaty, even if fully implemented, would only save us about a tenth of a degree of future temperature rise many decades from now. What a waste of effort! You can see for yourself here at the Junk Science website.

Answer: There are three big problems with this claim.

First, it’s a red herring. The purpose of Kyoto is to establish international political and economic mechanisms for dealing with global warming, by taking the first tentative steps toward a difficult goal. You may as well time me walking to the sidewalk where I parked my car bicycle and then tell me at this rate I will never get home.

Second, Kyoto is a step-by-step process. The second phase (much less third, fourth, etc.) has not even been negotiated yet. How can anyone claim anything about how effective it is going to be? Junk Science and other sources of this propaganda are starting their dubious calculations from the assumption that Kyoto ends in 2012 when round one is over. That is just wrong.

Third, the temperature several decades from now is to a large extent already determined by the current energy imbalance, thanks to extra CO2 already in the atmosphere. Short of a complete cessation of emissions today, there is no foreseeable way to avoid the bulk of the warming “in the pipeline.” This is mostly due to the extreme thermal inertia of the oceans and therefore the climate system as a whole. It means that our actions today, or our inaction, will have consequences several decades hence.

Finally, I have a rather personal peeve with people who vociferously criticize any attempt at a solution and yet propose nothing in its place. You’d think if they were so sincerely concerned about how ineffective Kyoto will be (as, frankly, they should be), they would be agitating for more action rather than shrugging their shoulders and saying “I guess we should just sit it out.” It’s like a guy standing on the sidewalk watching all his neighbors fight a house fire, saying “you’ll never make it, you don’t have enough people.”

Shut up and help!