Important U.S. Climate Program Is Unheralded

Published April 1, 2005

European greens expressed their displeasure with President George W. Bush during his February visit to Europe, for U.S. unwillingness to support the Kyoto accord, with its greenhouse gas emissions cuts for developed nations. But the Bush administration is taking concrete–if largely unheralded by Europeans and a hostile American media–steps on climate change issues.

Chief among these is the Methane to Markets (M2M) initiative. Upon the Kyoto agreement coming into force for its signatories on February 16, Gregg Easterbrook noted in The New Republic, “The world’s first international anti-global-warming agreement to take force is not the Kyoto treaty. It is a Bush administration initiative–and you have not heard a peep regarding the initiative because the American press corps is pretending it does not exist.”

Methane Cuts More Effective

Easterbrook described the program as follows: “The White House’s July 2004 agreement requires the United States, United Kingdom, India, Ukraine, Mexico, and Italy to reduce global methane emissions by an amount equal to roughly 1 percent of all greenhouse gases released to the atmosphere by human activity.”

Bush’s methane initiative will remove 50 million metric tons by 2015. (Kyoto is not designed to remove any methane from the atmosphere.) According to the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy, that is the equivalent of:

  • taking 33 million cars off the road for a year;
  • eliminating 50 coal-fired electricity plants; or
  • forgoing energy used for providing enough heat to warm 7.2 million households for a year.

The most the Kyoto cuts will accomplish, according to the climate models cited by the treaty’s supporters, is a delay in warming by six years at the beginning of the next century. This short delay will come at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses annually.

Program Is Economically Viable

Meanwhile, M2M will cost the federal government only about $53 million over five years. This is because methane is about 20 to 30 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide (CO2), the main target of the Kyoto accord.

Further, M2M may produce additional economic benefits for both developed and developing countries. Plugging methane leaks in natural gas lines means saving product. Capturing it from landfills to help run a local power plant gives local communities that permit landfills an economic reward. Cleaning it from coal mines can reduce explosions.

Greens Committed to CO2

The environmental activist movement, however, has been largely silent regarding M2M. As Daniel Sarewitz and Roger Pielke Jr. wrote in The Atlantic in July 2000, “A central tenet of environmentalism is that less human interference in nature is better than more.” The great symbol of noninterference has become the reduction of CO2 emissions. CO2, which makes life on this planet possible, is a fundraising focal point for such activist groups as the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, and Greenpeace.

As Sarewitz and Pielke argued, “[E]nvironmentalists and scientists, in focusing their own, increasingly congruent interests on carbon-dioxide emissions, have framed the problem of global environmental protection in a way that can offer no realistic prospect of a solution.”

The reason: The vast majority of developing nations have nothing to gain from emissions reductions for themselves. They gain only from developed nations seeking to meet emissions targets and either transferring their heavier industry to poorer countries that are excluded from Kyoto’s emissions cuts, or getting money directly from developed countries not to develop industry themselves, thereby becoming climate welfare states.

Accountability, Development

Hence, Kyoto’s unintended consequence may be more interference with the environment and more pollution in developing countries.

The M2M program, by contrast, is part of an alternative strategy that stresses economic accountability and technological development. To date, the Bush administration has provided $700 million in tax credits to promote clean technologies next year, $3 billion in research on new clean technologies, and $200 million to help in the transfer of clean technology to developing countries.

Duane Freese ([email protected]) is a columnist for Tech Central Station (, where this article first appeared.