The two documents listed here, each issued since the first of the year, offer competing blueprints for the twenty-first century. They are diametrically opposed in their implications; paying heed to one would mean ignoring the other. Since they concern the greatest threat to Earth’s physical stability in human history—the warming of our planet caused by the consumption of fossil fuels—the choice between them carries unusual significance. In fact, it would not be hyperbole to say they outline the first great choice of the new millennium, a choice that may well affect the planet throughout the thousand years to come.
The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change consists of three large volumes that were put into final form at conferences held in Shanghai, Geneva, and Accra during this past winter.1 They distill millions of man-hours of work on the future of the climate into a readable and understandable summation that argues, in a measured but urgent scientific tone, that we stand on the edge of cataclysm.
To understand where these volumes come from, we have to go back to the 1980s, when the theory of global warming was first widely put forward in this country, most notably by the NASA scientist James Hansen. His computer model indicated that as human beings continued to burn natural gas, coal, and oil, the carbon dioxide produced as a byproduct and accumulating in the atmosphere was beginning to perceptibly heat the earth, and that this heating would rapidly accelerate. The molecular structure of carbon dioxide, and of a number of other, rarer, industrial gases, prevent the sun’s radiation from reflecting off the earth, trapping heat and thereby increasing global temperature—the “greenhouse effect.” At the time, it was a theory with plenty of doubters.2 Though there was some public pressure for immediate action, especially following an extremely hot summer across the North American continent in 1988, national governments instead funneled many millions of dollars into research on the topic. And so the scientists searched for answers in the upper atmosphere and under the sea, on tundra and desert, permafrost and icecap, in tree rings and glacial ice cores, in pollen sediments and bird-nesting records, with satellites and weather balloons. They made their computer models more and more accurate, testing them by looking at past climate or tracking the chemicals released by the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. And they began to synthesize all this research into workable summary form for the policymakers who, it was assumed, would deal with the results.
The IPCC, organized under UN auspices, is the formal vehicle for that process of summation, and a look at its methods should dispel any doubt that this is still shaky science. At five-year intervals, about one hundred member governments propose the names of their best climate scientists. From the thousands of nominations, the scientific leadership of the IPCC then picks several hundred for each of three working groups, based on their publications in scientific journals, and each scientist is assigned responsibility for synthesizing all the peer-reviewed literature on a particular aspect of the problem. More scientists are drafted as reviewers and critics—by the end of this five-year cycle, at least 1,500 experts, including nearly every im-portant climatologist on earth, were somehow involved in the process.
The working group reports are then reviewed by scientists again selected by member nations, condensed into hundred-page technical summaries, further condensed into twenty-page summaries for policymakers, and then reviewed one more time in a plenary session where representatives from all governments go over the final document line by line. This process of consensus is not only slow—it also tends to mute the outcome even further. At the Working Group II conference in Geneva in February, for instance, the delegates from the Saudi government, which has a big stake in downplaying global warming, offered an almost continuous stream of objections and amendments—by the end, however, the final document was unanimously approved.
The first breakthrough from this exacting process came in 1995, during the second assessment period, when the final summation yielded the conclusion that “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.” Though couched in the quiet language of science, this was the first official recognition that human beings had become numerous enough, and industrialized enough, as a species to produce emissions that would radically alter the most fundamental force of the planet’s surface. In the five years since, leading up to this year’s so-called Third Assessment Report, or TAR, more researchers with more literature to assess and synthesize have reached more assured and nuanced conclusions; in general they have pulled the questions of climate science further out of the murk of doubt and into a broad consensus.
Working Group I, charged with assessing the current understanding of climate science and making predictions for the century to come, concluded this time around that “there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last fifty years is attributable to human activities.” The members of the group further predicted, using six different projections about how large economies would grow and how fast they would make the transition to non-carbon sources of energy, that the global average temperature would increase by 3 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit in this century, a forecast significantly bleaker than their 2 to 6 degree estimate of five years ago. If it comes true, the earth will be transformed into a planet unlike any human beings have ever known. Global average temperature, currently 59 degrees, would likely rise to the mid-60s, perhaps as high as 70 degrees. A 70-degree afternoon may be delightful, but a 70-degree planet, or even a 65-degree one, would be unlike anything we’ve ever encountered. It would mean a vast increase in the amount of energy trapped in the narrow envelope of our atmosphere, energy that would increase the rate of almost every natural process save for the volcanic and the tectonic.
Working Group II, assigned to assess the scale of those effects, predicts that even the more moderate temperature increases will lead to reductions in crop yields in most tropical and sub-tropical regions where food is scarce. (Yields may actually grow initially in temperate regions, and then start to shrink as the temperature increase rises more than a few degrees.) They also forecast decreased availability of water in arid regions as well as much higher risk of flood from heavier rainfall. (The reason for this paradoxical effect is that warm air holds more water vapor than cold, and hence both evaporation in dry areas and deluge in wet ones increase.) Rising sea levels, they say, could also flood many low-lying areas and eventually submerge some island and delta nations.
They also predict that because a warmer and wetter world will favor mosquitoes, more people will be exposed to malaria and dengue. In addition, they warn of potentially nasty surprises, including perhaps the “significant slowing” of the Gulf Stream that warms the North Atlantic, which would have the effect of chilling Western Europe. The poorest parts of the world, they conclude, “have the least capacity to adapt and are the most vulnerable.” Eventually the whole world will be affected, but in the short term the US is likely to be luckier than almost any other region. That our continent is large, relatively isolated, and in a mid-range latitude will slow many damaging effects; and that, as we shall see, has major political implications.
Finally, Working Group III, which looked at strategies for slowing the flow of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, examined a daunting series of computer models that tried to forecast the future of economic growth and technological change. They acknowledge that programs for sequestering carbon dioxide by, say, growing trees that would absorb it could yield some useful results. But they also concluded that all strategies for mitigating greenhouse gases and stabilizing their concentration “are characterized by the introduction of efficient technologies for both energy use and supply, and of low or no-carbon energy.” In addition, while they acknowledge that moving quickly to, say, retire existing power plants would raise the cost of this effort, they also add that “rapid near-term action would decrease environment and human risks.”
At the moment, any such talk is purely conjectural, of course. The one international attempt to agree on even modest CO2 reductions, the Kyoto accords, has now foundered, and in the US, despite pledges by leaders of both parties to stabilize emissions, we continue to burn more and more fossil fuel. Because the momentum toward greater fossil fuel use is so strong, especially in developing countries, CO2 levels will inevitably rise for many years to come—indeed, many policymakers now despair of stopping their rise short of the 560 parts per million that would represent a doubling of the concentrations before the Industrial Revolution.
Despite those hard truths, the IPCC report is still a turning point. Boiled down, its thousands of pages, graphs, and models say that the problem of global warming is dire, and addressing it requires the conversion of our economies from fossil fuels to some other base. It doesn’t say exactly how much less CO2 we should produce. (The common shorthand estimate used by climatologists for the last half-decade is that 60 to 80 percent reduction in current levels of CO2 emissions would suffice to stabilize climatic disruption at its current level.) Nor does it say exactly when this must be done—the IPCC considers policy prescriptions outside its province. But there can be no doubt from the tone and argument of the documents that the answer to those questions is: as much as possible, and as soon as possible.
Each working group is much bolder in its statements than in the past, mostly, I think, because the planet itself, beginning around 1995, seemed to start conducting its own peer review of conclusions about global warming. Averaged globally, record hot years came one after another, and with them came evidence of truly dramatic change, precisely the sort of changes that confirm the validity of the accepted scientific models. Indeed, though the world has so far warmed only about one degree Fahrenheit, which is to say perhaps a quarter or a fifth of what we can expect in the century to come, the results, as listed in the new IPCC documents, are already frighteningly large. Temperature does seem to have effects on almost everything that happens on the surface of the planet (tectonic and volcanic activity may be the only completely “natural” forces left). For instance:
? Arctic sea ice is melting at a rapid pace—it is 40 percent thinner than it was forty years ago. (This will not raise the sea level by itself for the same reason that melting an ice cube in a drink doesn’t raise the level of liquid in a glass. The projected rise in sea level of at least a foot would result mostly from the thermal expansion of hotter water.)
? All major non-polar glacial systems are in rapid retreat—as a paper published last month made clear, the snows of Kilimanjaro may well disappear by 2015.
? Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, ice forms on lakes about a week later in the winter than it did a century ago, and it melts about a week earlier.
? The timing of egg-laying and flowering for animals and plants has shifted perceptibly as climates warm.
? Precipitation has increased across our hemisphere—especially the rate of destructive deluges, which by some measures are 20 percent more common, precisely what one would expect from the greater amount of water vapor that warm air holds.
? El Niño events—the huge and sometimes disastrous effects caused by ocean warming in the tropical Pacific Ocean—have become more frequent, persistent, and intense since the mid-1970s.
? A series of dramatic floods and storms have raised insurance payouts enormously. Instead of paying about $2 billion annually, which was the global average in the 1980s, between 1990 and 1995 the industry averaged $30 billion a year in reimbursements, which have continued to grow (and which have resulted in the insurance industry becoming the most outspoken part of the business community on these issues).
In other words, the world as human beings have always known it is quickly changing, and we are the agents of that change.
The scientific method has worked spectacularly. In ten years it has taken a physics and chemistry problem of enormous dimensions, used every tool of the modern scientist, especially the supercomputer, and reduced it to a set of maxims agreed upon by virtually everyone working in the field.
The IPCC documents have been circulated to every government on earth—indeed, those governments have been involved in the process throughout. Their results have been reported in the world’s press. If there were any lingering doubts about the IPCC’s accuracy, they should have been dispelled in early June when the National Academy of Sciences, reviewing the IPCC report at the request of President Bush, confirmed its findings. In other words, as of the spring of 2001 we cannot say that we have not been warned.
The National Energy Policy, drawn up in the first hundred days of the Bush administration, and directed by Vice President Cheney, relegates discussion of climate changes to six unremarkable paragraphs buried in the middle of the report. The lengthiest of those paragraphs describes a plan by a utility company to reforest 100,000 acres of “bottomland hardwood forests on National Wildlife Refuges in the lower Mississippi Valley,” an act the company calculates will sequester 13.5 million tons of carbon dioxide. In general, the tone is eerily reminiscent of the Reagan administration of nearly fifteen years ago—then, testifying before Congress, an undersecretary of energy called the greenhouse effect “cause for serious concern” but said “significant gaps exist in our knowledge.” Now the authors of the energy plan write: “The United States recognizes the seriousness of this global issue as scientists attempt to learn more about climate change.” In any event, the words “carbon dioxide” don’t even appear in the report’s glossary.
The effect of the plan, however, would clearly be to obliterate any serious attempt to restrain carbon dioxide emissions in the nation that produces a quarter of those emissions globally, and hence must take the leading role in controlling them.3 The National Energy Policy is based instead on the administration’s projections of energy needs, which it says will rise by 32 percent by 2020. It chooses vastly increased production of coal, gas, and oil as the primary means of dealing with these needs, and in so doing would effectively preempt the possibility of any of the reductions in CO2 emissions envisioned by the IPCC scientists. That is to say, it treats the energy problem essentially on its own, and argues that the problem could be solved by increasing supply.
And that is precisely the problem. If the molecular structure of carbon dioxide did not trap heat, then Cheney’s prescription would arguably be the most sensible and certainly the cheapest solution. But by ignoring the constraints imposed by the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere, the Bush plan winds up solving the energy problem only by radically worsening the greenhouse effect.
The report mentions some measures for conservation, but these are largely window dressing, and were apparently given emphasis after the reaction to the Vice President’s remarks in a speech that conservation was mainly useful as a “personal virtue,” not an answer to energy demand. For all the report’s talk of such measures as tax credits for hybrid electric vehicles, its authors stick to their goal of helping Americans consume a third more energy before the next nineteen years are over. The heart of the plan involves going beneath the earth’s surface to extract that energy, and then burning it, just as we’ve been doing since the Industrial Revolution began. There may be another federal report someday on climate change, but if the recommendations of the Bush-Cheney plan are actually implemented—if we really build the 1,300 power plants that various cabinet members have called for—then the die is cast for the next several decades. And those decades, as the IPCC has warned, are the critical ones, if for no other reason than what we build now will lock us into decades of increased emissions. A new power plant is designed to last at least forty years. Build a coal-fired one in 2003 and it will still be there in 2043, paying back its capital investment and belching out CO2.
To understand why the plan is so silent on global warming, a little history is again in order. The last administration did very little to control greenhouse emissions, a fact that surprises many who had read Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance. After pledging to hold America’s carbon dioxide emissions level in the 1990s, the Clinton administration never got around to doing what that would have required: raising the price of conventional fuels, committing large amounts of money to alternative power sources, and requiring increased automobile fuel efficiency, even at the cost of angering Detroit. Instead, as the economy boomed, we left our energy infrastructure pretty much as is, with the result that in the year 2000 Americans produced 12 percent more carbon dioxide than they did in 1990.
The last ten years have been a wasted decade—and in many ways worse than wasted. Because of those increased emissions, the chance that America might reduce its emissions to meet the targets of the Kyoto accords became more and more remote. As a result, by last fall, when the nations of the world met in The Hague to negotiate the details of the Kyoto treaty, America was reduced to demanding a series of unlikely loopholes that would allow it to fudge its numbers. The US demanded, for example, that it be credited with large emissions reductions simply because it had lots of forests sucking up CO2; this would have made it cheaper for us to meet our targets but would have done little to change the path of our energy policy. When the rest of the developed world—many of whose principal nations were more firmly committed to signing the treaty—finally called our bluff and refused to make those alterations, the only movement toward any international control on CO2 collapsed.4 The release of the IPCC documents during the following months served as a kind of commentary on that debacle.
Some environmentalists persuaded themselves that the Bush administration would prove better able to deal with the issue than its predecessor. The President’s father, after all, had promised as early as the 1988 campaign that he would combat “the greenhouse effect with the White House effect.” And so optimists constructed a number of Nixon-goes-to-China arguments about how a Texas oilman, with a drilling company CEO as his number two and an auto industry lobbyist—Andrew Card—as his chief of staff, would be well placed to force real changes down the throats of the fossil fuel lobbyists that had long blocked progress. Indeed, at President Bush’s first cabinet meeting, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill distributed copies of a speech he had given in 1998 arguing that any delay in tackling climate change could pose a “real danger to civilization.” Christine Todd Whitman, the new administrator of the EPA, went to Europe and told her counterparts there not to worry: George Bush was committed to taking action. As a first step, she said, he would fulfill a campaign promise to phase in limits on power plant emissions for four different pollutants: not just mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide, which produce conventional environmental trouble like acid rain, but also carbon dioxide, the chief agent of global warming.
This step—which the Clinton administration never took and Al Gore refused to endorse in his campaign—might have had serious effects. You can get rid of sulfur and nitrogen by installing scrubbers in smokestacks, for example, or by using so-called “clean coal” technologies to reduce the impurities in coal before it is burned. But reducing CO2 output would require replacing coal with other fuels, chiefly natural gas, which emits half the carbon dioxide per BTU. (Most new plants are currently being built for gas, mainly because of the local concerns over acid rain and local pollution, but the “four pollutant” bill would have led to the conversion of many existing plants, and undermined the campaign for “clean coal,” which does nothing to limit CO2.) The Nixon-to-China fantasy suddenly seemed almost plausible. As The New York Times reported in a front-page story on March 10,
The Bush administration, some influential Republicans in Congress, and several big owners of coal-burning power plants have joined in advocating something long-sought by environmental groups and Democrats: cuts in the plants’ emissions of carbon dioxide…. Many people on both sides of the issue say chances have never been better for legislation to limit the emissions from power plants, which produce about 40 percent of the nation’s CO2 output.
It was not to be. The headline on the front page three days later was: “Bush, in Reversal, Won’t Seek Cuts in Emissions of Carbon Dioxide.” The President had sent a letter to four key senators saying that his campaign pledge had been “in error,” that the state of the science surrounding climate change was “incomplete,” and that the Kyoto protocol was “an unfair and ineffective means of addressing” global warming.
It quickly emerged that Bush had been lobbied heavily by conservatives. Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute had circulated an e-mail urging that opponents “go all out once again to share our concerns with every contact we’ve got.” A few days later he declared Bush’s switch a “famous victory.” And indeed it was—the environmentalists within the administration were routed. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham (defeated in the fall for reelection to his Michigan Senate seat, where he had assiduously done the bidding of the automobile companies) told a packed luncheon of the US Chamber of Commerce that he was not about to “regulate coal out of existence.” He said later that the US was going to need sixty-five new power plants a year for the next two decades, for a total of 1,300.
By most accounts, it was less ideology than money that swayed the President. One concern was to meet the expectations of big campaign donors—of the $14 million in contributions by oil and gas groups, for instance, $10 million went to Republicans. The deeper reason, however, was Bush’s fear that doing anything to seriously address CO2 emissions would end up raising the cost of energy, and that voters would not stand for it. In his letter to the Senate, he said he was reversing himself on the power plant emissions because of a Department of Energy study showing that such caps would “lead to an even more dramatic shift from coal to natural gas for electric power generation and significantly higher electricity prices.” This, he wrote, would come “at a time when California has already experienced energy shortages, and other Western states are worried about price and availability of energy this summer, [so] we must be very careful not to take actions that could harm consumers.”
The reference to California was gratuitous—California actually depends very little on coal for electricity and by most accounts it was a botched deregulation plan that led to its current fiasco. But the basic point was correct. At least in the short term, making our energy system less carbon-intensive will cost money. There is nothing so cheap, at the moment, as coal—its abundance makes it almost as ubiquitous as sun or wind or hydrogen or the other energy sources favored by environmentalists. And in contrast to those renewable resources, the infrastructure is already firmly in place; there are people making vast sums of money from supplying the need; and it requires very little trouble indeed to increase the supply. And what the Bush administration has now said, unequivocally, is that it does not plan to alter in any serious way our energy system. In fact, it plans to enormously enlarge it. “We need more refineries, we need more power plants, we need more pipelines,” White House chief economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey told Meet the Press in mid-March.
This is certainly the path that will please campaign donors—but, to repeat, it is also the path of least resistance with the American people. Though some surveys show Americans concerned about global warming, and even willing to pay a higher price for cleaner power, Bush doesn’t believe those polls any more than Clinton did. He fears that not only will rising prices at the pump anger voters but that, again in the short term, high prices could threaten the economy’s health. “The nation’s last three recessions have all been tied to rising energy prices,” said Abraham—including the one that helped defeat Bush’s father. The Democrats have shown similar cowardice. In the summer of 2000, when it was gas and not electric prices that were starting to spike, Al Gore demanded that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve be tapped to flood the market and lower the cost of oil, instead of letting it rise enough to, say, dissuade Americans from buying SUVs. He calculated that a price rise could cost him the election, and he was likely correct. As Gore said early in his term as vice-president, “The minimum that is scientifically necessary [to combat global warming] far exceeds the maximum that is politically feasible.” True enough—and it is the shame of the Clinton administration that the equation didn’t change one bit in eight years.
In the face of that political gridlock, and of the scientific imperative outlined by the IPCC, what can be done? One strategy is to look for invisible fixes that consumers will hardly notice. For instance, the Clinton administration at the end of its term proposed a series of efficiency standards for new appliances that would reduce energy demand enormously. Air conditioners consume 28 percent of California’s peak demand for electricity, for instance. Making them as efficient as the Clinton standards envision over the next four years would save enough energy to help avoid the construction of eleven large power plants on the West Coast, and 120 nationwide, by 2010. Add in the proposed new standards for refrigerators, washing machines, water heaters, and light bulbs and by some accounts the energy savings by 2010 would be big enough to light all American homes for two years. The cost of these changes would be relatively small, and hidden in the charges for the appliances. The Bush administration, however, pressed by manufacturers, is now scaling back some of the new standards.
The Republican magic bullet has been nuclear power, which was abandoned because of safety concerns and outrageous costs in the 1970s but recently has been resurrected precisely because it offers a way to boil water, and hence generate electricity, without releasing carbon dioxide. It also offers a great way to spend money—nuclear power has required staggering government subsidies throughout its history, subsidies that if they were redirected toward energy conservation would by most accounts save more power per dollar spent. Though proponents now suggest that a new generation of safer reactors would be cheaper to design and build, ask yourself how eager you are to have such a plant built near you, or to live near a site for storing nuclear waste. It will take at least as much political will to ram through hundreds of nuclear power plants as it would to raise the price of fossil fuels. One of the first predictions of Tom Daschle on becoming the new Senate majority leader was that expanding nuclear power would now be “impossible” until the problem of nuclear waste could be solved. Though environmentalists will likely lessen their opposition to nuclear power, just as they will need to reconsider their dislike of diesel engines for cars, the nation is not going to build hundreds of reactors in the next few decades; the Bush-Cheney plan leans far more heavily on coal, oil, and gas than it does on uranium.
In any event, none of those changes points the way toward the 60 or 80 percent cuts in carbon dioxide emissions that the scientists say will eventually be necessary to keep climate change to a manageable level. For real change to happen, we need something dramatic—the analogy that many have used is a “Manhattan project” to drive forward the development of fuel cells, wind and solar power, and other non-carbon based energy sources, not only here but abroad. These plans, though they would require a huge international effort for a generation, are certainly achievable—unlike the atom bomb venture, the basic technology is not in doubt. It is true that they are expensive, but many writers have also proposed entirely plausible ways to pay for them. The Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Ross Gelbspan has called for a minuscule “Tobin tax” on international currency transactions, for instance, that would generate a large cash fund, allowing the developing world to leapfrog relatively painlessly past the carbon dioxide–belching period of development. For the US, the entrepreneur and environmentalist Peter Barnes has advocated a “Skytrust” plan that would make fossil fuel producers pay for the right to emit CO2, creating a pool of money that would be annually divided and paid out to each American in a dividend check, a market-based initiative that would create huge incentives for shifting to non-carbon-based fuels.5
Some have speculated that the new Democratic control of the Senate will fundamentally change the direction of energy policy. But though the Democrats say they will protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling, they are unlikely to move fast enough on global warming to prevent arctic ice from melting as temperatures climb. (Alaska, where temperatures have risen faster than anywhere else in the country, has already seen widespread thawing of permafrost. A study released in May showed a surge in the growth of shrubs across the arctic tundra.) Nothing in the Clinton-Gore years, or in the Democratic counterproposal to the Bush energy plan, acknowledges the scale and speed of the change required to deal with warming of the magnitude described by the IPCC.
Even the Kyoto proposals at their toughest were merely preliminary measures, and Democrats were as nearly unanimous in their opposition to those accords as Republicans. Indeed, to the extent that Democrats struggle to keep the price of energy low, they make the task of inducing conservation more difficult. It would take every bit of Jim Jeffords’s vaunted independence for him to make a real difference on this issue in his new role as chair of the Environment Committee.
Such proposals as those of Peter Barnes are not impossible fantasies—the Dutch and the Scandinavians have announced ambitious national energy plans to wean themselves from fossil fuels by mid-century. What is lacking in the country is a catalyst, some infusion of political will to start the reaction going. In private, a good many American environmentalists say that it will take some significant natural disaster to finally turn the tide: a Hurricane Andrew that veers a little north and obliterates a Southern coastal city, a dust bowl, a flood of the scale of those in Mozambique or China. But as the recent ones in IPCC documents make clear, there’s an eerie tilt to the map of global warming’s effects. North America, almost alone, will in the short run probably feel little ill effect from climate change. Though in the end we will be as devastated as any other part of the planet by large-scale change, the next couple of decades could see us benefit from global warming thanks to longer growing seasons. At worst, our economy is so enormous, and growing so fast, that even large-scale natural disasters are pretty much shrugged off.
Barring a deep change in public attitudes, we seem altogether too likely to drive blithely on, steering by the rearview mirror. That’s what the Bush-Cheney energy plan does, and it’s the reason most other nations, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, reacted so undiplomatically to our national debate. Jan Pronk, the Dutch environment minister who chaired the last round of negotiations on the Kyoto treaty, said that Bush’s energy plan “will in my view undoubtedly increase carbon dioxide emissions rather than decrease or stabilize them.” He added, more perceptively than most American commentators on the plan, “now we have an energy plan setting the limits for a climate plan which is still not yet there…. Everybody is waiting for the climate plan.” If so, they can stop waiting. The White House indicated in early June that, while rejecting the Kyoto protocols, it might ask for voluntary reductions in CO2 emissions from utilities and revise some of its rhetoric on global warming in response to the National Academy of Sciences report. But the National Energy Policy is our real response to the IPCC, and the message couldn’t be clearer: it’s business as usual in the US.
—June 7, 2001
July 5, 2001
The reports will be published in full by Cambridge University Press in August. A fourth volume, Climate Change 2001: Synthesis Report, will be published in October 2001. ↩
See my “Is the World Getting Hotter?” The New York Review, December 8, 1988. ↩
The US, it should be understood, doesn’t suffer directly from CO2 emissions as it suffers from, say, the soot pouring out of coal-burning power stations. Carbon dioxide mixes into the atmosphere globally, trapping heat all around the planet, so regions that produce little of the gas still suffer all of its effects, and depending on their latitude can be even harder hit than the main producers. ↩
The energy expert David G. Victor, in a detailed new look at the Kyoto negotiations, argues that the treaty was doomed from the start because of the difficulty in figuring out an emissions trading scheme between nations. He argues instead for a series of emissions taxes. See his The Collapse of the Kyoto Protocol and the Struggle to Slow Global Warming (Council on Foreign Relations, 2001). One of the devastating attacks on the Kyoto accord appears in a new book from Yale economists William Nordhaus and Joseph Boyer (Warming the World: Economic Models of Global Warming, Yale University Press, 2001). Although the findings of their computer models of possible economic damage from global warming have grown grimmer in this latest update, they suggest that the Kyoto accords would have done little to help. ↩
See his new book Who Owns the Sky: Our Common Assets and the Future of Capitalism (Island Press, 2001) as well as Ross Gelbspan’s The Heat Is On (Perseus, 1998). ↩