Three Fronts of the Climate War
We are all adrift in the same boat. And there is no way half the boat is going to sink.
Raul Estrada Oyuela, Argentine climate negotiator, Kyoto, Japan, December 1997
Although the battle over the climate issue is most vividly illustrated by the relentless resistance of big coal and big oil within the United States, it has rippled throughout the political, diplomatic, and business arenas--pitting nations and industries against each other and even setting the federal government against many states.
Within a month of taking office, President George W. Bush opened a gaping rupture between the United States and Europe on an issue of paramount importance to the Europeans--global climate change.
That split over the climate crisis would be reflected in growing divisions between the United States and the rest of the world, between Washington and many U.S. state and city governments, and within the business world as well, exposing deep differences within the auto, oil, and insurance industries.
The Bush administration's diplomatic posture mirrored one of its central ideological goals: the drastic reduction of the power and influence of government domestically-and the concurrent reduction of the influence and reach of international governance institutions.
Bush aroused the suspicions of many U.S. allies when, a month after his inauguration, he reversed his campaign promise to cap emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants. Under pressure from lobbyists in the coal industry, as well as from conservative members of the Republican Party, Bush announced on March 13, 2001, that he would no longer seek to regulate such power plant emissions.
The statement dismayed many Democrats--and a number of Republicans, including then treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, a strong proponent of aggressive climate policies. But the strongest negative response came from across the ocean.
Nine days after his announcement, Bush received a stern letter from the fifteen-nation European Union condemning his action. The letter, signed by European Commission president Romano Prodi and Swedish prime minister Goeran Persson, challenged Bush to find the 'political courage' to tackle the climate crisis.
The letter made it clear that to the EU, an agreement 'leading to real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is of the utmost importance . . . The global and long-term importance of climate change and the need for a joint effort by all industrialized countries in this field makes it an integral part of relations between the USA and the EU.'
The president's response to the EU was unequivocally dismissive. Six days after receiving the letter from the EU, Bush withdrew the United States from the Kyoto Protocol because, in the words of the president's press secretary, 'It is not in the United States' economic best interest.'
Margot Wallström, the European Union environmental commissioner, called Bush's decision 'very worrying.' Kazuo Asakai, a top official in the Japanese embassy in Washington, told the Washington Post, 'Japan will be dismayed and deeply disappointed. [The Kyoto treaty] is very serious and important.'
The European diplomats were particularly stunned by the fact that the administration had failed to inform them of its plan before announcing it to the media.
'Sometimes people think this is only about the environment, but it's also about international relations and economic cooperation,' EU spokeswoman Annika Ostergren told Reuters News Service. 'The EU is willing to discuss details and problems, but not to scrap the whole protocol.'
Swedish prime minister Goeran Persson was sharply critical of Bush, telling reporters that Bush's position was a heavy blow to the international effort to curb global warming. 'It will have a tremendous impact . . . because it would have sent an extremely strong signal if the U.S. had stuck with the Kyoto protocol,' Persson said.
From Boiling Point by Ross Gelbspan, pages 93-126 of the hardcover edition. Reprinted with Permission from Basic Books Copyright 2004.
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