Editorial: Rogue Nation Has Become Consensus Builder

Published January 1, 2006

The year was 2001, and George Bush, reflecting a 95-0 U.S. Senate vote against the Kyoto Protocol during former president Bill Clinton’s last term in office, definitively rejected U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol. As a result, global warming alarmists in the United States and Europe called Bush and the United States an “outlaw” and a “rogue nation.”

Now, just four years later, an amazing thing has happened. The United States has not changed its position, yet it has become the consensus builder for a more forward-looking approach to climate change.

Senate, Bush Sought Alternative

The resolution that unanimously passed the Senate in 1997 stated the United States would oppose any treaty that would impose serious economic harm on the U.S. economy and would place binding limits on industrial nations but would not apply to developing nations such as China and India.

As Kyoto contained both of the shortcomings feared by the Senate, Bush held firm and outlined a different U.S. approach to addressing climate change. Among global warming alarmists on both sides of the Atlantic, the reaction was vitriolic.

Alarmists Incensed

Time magazine, for example, called the U.S. a “rogue” nation whose “dangerous unilateralism” would end our role as world leader in international affairs.

Alarmists in Europe became downright ugly. The London Guardian called the U.S. rejection of Kyoto a “Taliban-style act of wanton destruction.”

Conveniently forgetting that other nations, including Australia, also opted out of Kyoto, and that nations such as Russia signed on only after publicly challenging the scientific and economic justifications for it, activists portrayed the United States as an outlaw nation that, like a disgraced gunfighter in the Wild West, would be forced to “go it alone.”

U.S. Finding Redemption

But, much as an unjustly maligned cowboy on the silver screen inevitably returns with a large posse and truth on his side, our “rogue” nation has slowly but inexorably become the world’s leading consensus builder on climate change.

In July 2005, the United States led Australia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea in forming an international partnership to address climate change in a scientifically based and economically sustainable manner.

The transformation in U.S. global leadership was punctuated in November 2005, when British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared Kyoto and any other treaty demanding mandatory emissions cuts dead. According to Blair, mandatory emissions cuts are implausible unless technology is developed to make emissions reductions economically sustainable and until mandatory cuts apply to such nations as China and India.

Shortcomings Evident

Why did this dramatic transformation occur? There are many reasons. Despite the self-righteous statements of European Union leaders, the EU is failing miserably in its attempt to cut greenhouse gas emissions and is far short of its Kyoto goals. At the same time, through public- and private-sector cooperation exemplified by a $100 million grant from ExxonMobil to the Stanford University-led Global Climate and Energy Project, the United States has cut its greenhouse gas emissions every year since its 2001 rejection of the Kyoto Protocol.

Over the past three years, EU carbon dioxide emissions have risen (despite a tumbling economy), while U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have fallen (during a period of steady economic growth).

While the EU scores public relations points by vowing carbon dioxide cuts that never reach fruition, the U.S. has invested in and reaped the benefits of new technologies that, for example, dramatically reduce emissions of methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

As the European economy stumbles under its Kyoto burden, energy-intensive industry is relocating to China, where the government refuses to cut greenhouse gas emissions and where the economy sizzles. As Blair and others have come to realize, all the promised cuts in European greenhouse gas emissions will fail to make any dent in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels if cuts in Western emissions are outweighed by corresponding increases in Chinese emissions.

EU Economy Endangered

The final blow to Europe’s Kyoto delusions may have been the November 7 release of an international study predicting substantial harm to European economies that abide by their Kyoto promises. Putting still more pressure on the already-reeling European economy, Kyoto would spark an approximately 25 percent jump in electricity prices and a roughly 2 percent reduction in gross domestic product if Europe were to meet its reduction targets, which it has yet to do. Any additional cuts required after Kyoto expires in 2012 would be even more punitive economically.

Tony Blair and other world leaders have come to realize that if you love “That 70s Show,” wait until you see a rerun of “That 70s Economy” throughout Europe if the EU fails to follow Bush’s lead on global warming.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

A four-page summary of the Kyoto impact report issued by the International Council for Capital Formation, “The Cost of the Kyoto Protocol: Moving Forward on Climate Change Policy While Preserving Economic Growth,” is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to http://www.heartland.org, click on the PolicyBot™ button, and search for document #18189.