OF ALL the crimes against the environment that President Bush has
committed during his brief tenure, trampling his own promise to reduce carbon
dioxide emissions may prove to be the most damaging.
Global climate change threatens our economy, national security and the
physical landscape itself. By denying the urgency of global warming, President
Bush will not make it go away. That is why Bush cannot abandon the Kyoto
Protocol, which calls for industrialized nations to take the lead in reducing
greenhouse gas emissions.
The National Academy of Sciences recently revisited the issue of global
warming at Bush's request. The report concluded that "greenhouse gases are
accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities . . .
Temperatures are, in fact, rising."
The report further stated that "national policy decisions made now and in
the longer-term future will influence the extent of any damage suffered by
vulnerable human populations and ecosystems later in this century."
As a presidential candidate, George Bush recognized the importance of this
issue, promising to require all power plants to meet standards for reducing
carbon dioxide "within a reasonable period of time." He proudly announced that
"in Texas, we've done better with mandatory reductions, and I believe the
nation can do better."
As president, however, Bush now advocates voluntary reductions, and has
declared the Kyoto Protocol to be dead on arrival.
Bush has insisted that it would be too expensive for the United States to
follow the Kyoto treaty, which would require the nation to reduce its emission
levels to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
Yet, the long-range environmental and economic consequences of abandoning
the treaty will be far greater than the short-term expenses of adhering to it.
Many members of the business community recognize the stark realities of
global warming. In 1998, at the World Economic Forum, the chief executive
officers of the world's 1,000 largest corporations, declared that global
climate change was the most critical problem facing humanity.
In addition, recent studies indicate that shifting to more efficient
technologies and renewable energy sources will create hundreds of thousands of
jobs for Americans, and that the United States' Gross Domestic Product will
There is also a role for "sinks," such as forest lands that can sequester
or reduce carbon dioxide levels. There is room for all of these approaches in
the ongoing Kyoto process because the sequential goals provide such
We do not have the luxury of endless time. Nor are voluntary reductions,
such as the president has argued, sufficient.
In 1992, the United States signed and ratified a treaty that committed the
world's industrialized countries to voluntarily reduce emissions of greenhouse
gases to 1990-levels by 2000. It failed. Not one country has lived up to its
voluntary commitments, and U.S. emissions continue to rise.
Abandoning Kyoto carries serious geopolitical repercussions as well. Per
capita energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are twice as high in
the United States as in Europe, and the disparities grow even wider when
comparing the United States with developing countries.
British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott recently stated that the United
States "cannot pollute the world while free-riding on action by everyone else."
European Commission President Romano Prodi added that "if one wants to be a
world leader, one must know how to look after the entire Earth and not only
Quite simply, global climate change is under way, and it poses real threats
to our national and indeed global well-being.
The Kyoto Protocol is the best tool we have to try to avert this potential
economic and environmental catastrophe.
Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat, represents much of Oakland, Berkeley and nearby communities in the East Bay. She serves on the House International Relations Committee.
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle