A disgrace all right

By Steven Martinovich
web posted April 2, 2001

There's been quite an outpouring of anger over U.S. President George W. Bush's recent decision not to implement the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. The anger isn't coming from the average person on the street - either because they don't care or they agree - but from the usual suspects: liberal pundits. Where most decried the decision on the grounds that it was the wrong thing to do because climate change is doing material harm to the world, one writer crossed the line from respectable commentary to ludicrousness.

On March 29 in the pages of Salon in an article entitled "A national disgrace", Kevin Sweeney - a California based environmental consultant and former press secretary to Gary Hart - damned the decision as shortsighted and damaging to America's credibility. Fair enough, honest men can come to different results. Sweeney, however, then went on to say that Bush's "statements on climate change are fundamentally unpatriotic."

Describing Bush's position as more appropriate from the leaders of "Lesotho, Paraguay or the Czech Republic," Sweeney slams Bush for not supporting the protocol "because it does not yet command participation from developing nations, including China and India." Further, patriotism demands that the protocol had been implement because America, says Sweeney, is capable of anything it wants to do.

"As the world's only remaining superpower, our unique burden and enormous distinction has been that we must lead the way on the world's most critical issues, its most intractable problems. It is our huge responsibility. But it is also our particular joy. We're Americans. Give us a few minutes under the hood; we'll get this baby going," writes Sweeney.

Sweeney even pulls out the cudgel known as John F. Kennedy, quoting a 1962 speech asking, "Why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, did Lindbergh fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon, and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard."

What kind of real country and president would only sign an agreement if China ("Red China, as they presumably say at the Bush dinner table," smarmily comments Sweeney) signed it first? asks Sweeney.

"Kennedy knew what the rest of us know: A strong country is not afraid of high standards. In fact, a strong country tries to set the highest standards possible, knowing that it, as much as any other nation, possesses the skills and energy to meet those standards. That was the America in which I was born. George W. Bush's statements notwithstanding, it is the America in which I live," he continues.

"The United States should be doing all it can to support the ratcheting up of standards on the emissions of greenhouse gases. It is a challenge worthy of the American spirit. And it is an effort that would bring tremendous economic benefits to the American people."

It is here that I will stop quoting Sweeney since he continues in the same vein for another half dozen paragraphs. Dubya, I knew John F. Kennedy and you sir are no John F. Kennedy. Of course, given the things we know about JFK now that we didn't know during his time in office, that may not be a bad thing after all. Missing from all of his juvenile invective was a one thing, surprising considering he obviously feels strongly about the subject. He forgot to include one good reason to have implemented the protocol.

It's one thing to feel bad about yourself because France disapproves of you, if that's the type of thing that bothers you, and another to implement a protocol that would fundamentally alter the functioning of a nation's economy based on some exceptionally shoddy science and politics.

As critics of the protocol have pointed out, implement it would have likely cut energy use by up to 40 per cent and hike gas prices by up to 55 cents a gallon. If those numbers weren't grim enough, electricity prices would have jumped between 80 and 85 per cent while heating oil prices would have increased by at least 60 per cent. Oh, and the protocol would have cost the U.S. economy a mere $400 billion a year. Those numbers, by the way, come from the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

I won't bother covering the bad science of climate change given that it has been a subject exhaustively covered in the pages of Enter Stage Right and other magazines. We all know that over 19 000 scientists - including 2 100 climatologists, meteorologists and environmental experts - have signed a declaration condemning the protocol. The reason why it seems that so few climatologists were quoted by former Vice President Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is because they all seemed busy writing letters condemning Gore and the IPCC.

That might be the reason why Sweeney didn't bother addressing the science in favor of the last refuge of scoundrels - patriotism. Just think, marvels Sweeney, of all the energy efficient products America could be selling China and India in a few years if it had implemented the protocol. Just like the space program spawned the information age, a new era of hyper energy efficiency (just where these products are coming from remains unsaid given that corporations have spent billions looking for alternative sources of power with no success) will fuel the American economy. Of course, not only will the decision have economic ramifications but spiritual ones as well.

"Bush's decisions, if unchecked, could have a disastrous impact on the American spirit. His path would have us suddenly afraid of our strength. It would have us recoiling from a responsibility we have earned and cherished. It would have us relinquishing a leading role in the preservation of the planet," Sweeney says.

People like Sweeney used to believe that it was a "white man's burden" to bring civilization to the "savages" that westerners came across two centuries ago. Now it would appear America had a $400 billion a year obligation to bring better air conditioners to the third world. Times change but ludicrous arguments never go away.

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.

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