Bryan Appleyard steers a middle course on anthropogenic global warming, which both sides see as treason to the human race. I'm mostly an agw skeptic, although I'm willing to admit that it is possible that the globe is warming (mean global temperature is a completely meaningless concept), that it is our "fault" (although I can't imagine what difference that makes to anyone for whom the environment is not a religion) and that it is bad (although in actual human experience, warmer has always been better). The problem is that, once you've jumped through the hoops necessary to conclude that agw is happening and is bad, you're forced to conclude that it's inevitable. If our relatively small contribution to atmospheric greenhouse gases has taken us over the tilting point, there really is nothing we can do to stop the cascade now.
We can, of course, always make it worse by trying to help, which brings us to Kyoto.
There are those of us who suspect that the acceptance of agw by a certain portion of the population relies less on careful weighing of the science and more on a desire for a weapon with which to attack the west, liberal capitalism and, very specifically, the United States of America. Even if agw is true, clearly there were people predisposed to believe in it because they believe that a majority will believe that it must be fought and that fighting it requires adopting the political program urged in any event by the predisposed. Among these people are the Greens and the French [must not make joke about daily bathing] who saw Kyoto as a handy vehicle for running over the Americans.
To its credit, the Clinton Administration, and Al Gore specifically, fought back. Where Kyoto says, "Thou shalt throttle thy economy," the Administration tried to substitute relatively painless methods that might actually make a difference. These were, briefly, we should be able to buy credits from the former Communist nations, whose economies had been throttled already, we should get credit for reforesting and we should get credit for funding pollution controls in the Third World. (We've discussed these previously here.) The first two are kind of silly. Being able to buy credits from Russia was useful in bribing Russia to participate, but -- since their industries had already collapsed -- didn't subtract any CO2 from the atmosphere. Reforestation not only is happening anyway, but is a questionable means of taking CO2 from the atmosphere.
But funding air pollution control in the Third World is easy, cheap and beneficial even if agw is nonsense. We know how to do it, we've proven the technology on ourselves and our air is cleaner than its been in ages. The health benefits of clean air are clear and widespread. In the absence of these programs, China is about to overtake the US as the world's greatest source of greenhouse gases while the US has become more energy efficient (that is, it takes us less energy every year to produce each dollar of GDP).
There is only one catch: cleaning the air of particulate matter makes global warming worse.