- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2001

President George Bush finds himself under siege after rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that would impose punitive energy sanctions on the U.S. economy in response to unjustified global warming fears. Foreign politicians, American political opponents, and fund-raisers for environmental groups are all ganging up on him. Of course, the critics are being disingenuous. Mr. Bush announced his opposition to Kyoto during his campaign and has never wavered. His position also reflects the U.S. Senate vote of 95-0 against any such treaty that would cause severe economic damage to the United States, but exempt most of the rest of the world. And while the American public may express concern about global warming, a recent Time/CNN poll indicates that less than half would be willing to pay an additional 25 cents for a gallon of gasoline.
True enough, Mr. Bushs PR has not been the greatest. For example, he could have reiterated his position after the election using the bully pulpit rather than through a letter to four members of the U.S. Senate. He might have stressed the higher energy costs flowing from Kyoto and the severe job losses as industry moved offshore, pointing to the calamitous consequences on lower-income groups and attacking Green elitists at the same time. He neglected to inform the public that Kyoto is not supported by adequate science and is ineffective in reducing the rise in greenhouse gases. He could have attacked the hypocrisy of foreign nations where carbon dioxide levels are rising rapidly, but where non-CO2 alternatives like nuclear power are opposed and working reactors are being closed down. In any case, even environmental groups, certainly the moderate ones; agree that cutting energy use by some 35 percent in a decade is wildly unrealistic.
Worst of all, he has been keeping on the White House staff and in key government departments Gore acolytes who are actively opposed to his policies. The White House has even recruited from environmental organizations. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.
But its not too late; there are countermeasures that might work and would let his critics take the blame for opposing Kyoto. For example, European governments should be challenged, while last years truckers strikes are still fresh in their memories, to put into place actual policies that reduce CO2 emissions, either by rationing or by heavy taxes on fuels and electric power. California-style blackouts could serve as a model of enforced conservation by rationing.
A particularly effective ploy would be to propose a 10-year delay in Kyoto timetables, since the present targets are clearly unattainable within a decade. At the same time, however, we should insist on shifting the base year from 1990 to 2000. This would remove the built-in advantage that Germany and Great Britain now enjoy and force them into heavy emission cuts, like those contemplated for the United States. Such a reasonable proposal would draw an automatic veto from European Union members and expose the crass commercial reasons behind their support of Kyoto.
Or, the United States (and Canada, as well) could insist on full use of their natural carbon sinks forests and croplands. Together with market mechanisms like emission trading, it makes meeting the Kyoto goals relatively painless. This proposal would carry to its logical conclusion the new plan advanced by Jan Pronk, the Dutch environment minister. His earlier compromise along these lines incited wild opposition from the Greens and from European nations where Green parties are in the governing coalitions; it led to the collapse of The Hague negotiations last November.
All of these negotiating approaches for the forthcoming climate meetings in Bonn in July carry a severe risk, however. While they might conceivably change the specific targets or timetables or modalities of Kyoto, they would keep its structure in place. And this would almost certainly come back to haunt us. Kyotos expanding bureaucracy and the 180 or so nations that form the Conference of the Parties to the Protocol would get their hooks into U.S. energy policy and thereby our economic policy. Unelected regulators not responsible or even responsive to our citizens would determine our economic future.
To avoid paying such a heavy price, it would be best to return to the original 1992 climate treaty and its voluntary efforts to control emissions through conservation and higher energy efficiency. Slowly rising fuel prices, as oil and gas become depleted, and advances in technology will surely accelerate the ongoing trend towards decarbonization producing more GNP output with less fossil fuel. Hybrid electric cars, electricity generation with fuel cells and advanced nuclear reactors, more efficient appliances, and cheaper wind and solar energy production are all in the offing.
In the meantime, advancing climate science could convince the public that human-induced climate change is a minor contributor to the much larger natural changes and that, in any case, a slightly warmer climate and higher carbon dioxide levels would benefit agricultural crops and all of humanity.
The Kyoto Protocol is the opening wedge. Unless the Bush White House takes a firm stance on climate policy, its energy policy is in peril; one cannot separate the two. Beyond this, foreign policy and national sovereignty are at stake.

S. Fred Singer is professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and a former director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service.

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