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Commentary: Delusions of Grandeur While Missing the Boat on Kyoto

By Walter Simpson

Buffalo, NY – Last month, on February 16, the Kyoto Protocol went into effect. This international agreement, ratified by 141 nations including almost all European countries, China, Canada, Japan, and Russia, seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to put the brakes on global warming, the greatest environmental threat we face. Absent from the list is the United States. The Bush Administration has rejected Kyoto and is getting away with it because Americans are in a state of denial about climate change. And no wonder.

The press has let us down, giving ample voice to professional skeptics on the payroll of the fossil fuel industry while ignoring the weight of science and the international consensus which has existed on this issue since the early 1990s.

Right wing champions of Big Coal and Oil like Rush Limbaugh now dominate the air waves, misleading millions into believing that global warming is a hoax.

And as a nation, we are driving impaired. Let's face it, environmental conscience goes out the window when you plunk down twenty or thirty thousand dollars on a new SUV. Countless TV commercials have convinced countless Americans that four wheel drive mountain-climbing capability is necessary for that rough ride to the mall and back. For the insecure, driving your own tank can be very reassuring.

We Americans are world leaders - in pollution. Overall and on a per person basis, we produce more climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions than anyone else as a result of the unrivaled amounts of coal we burn to provide our electricity, the natural gas we burn to heat our homes, and the oil we burn in the form of gasoline to run our cars and Middle East wars.

The U.S. refusal to join other nations in combating climate change is about national conceit. We Americans think we are God's gift to this world, and we could care less about the international community or international law. We wage pre-emptive war whenever we like. We torture and imprison without a trial anyone we like. And we pollute as much as we like. In the spirit of the American Dream, we live for ourselves. Everyone else is collateral damage.

Of course, not all Americans are arrogant, selfish, callous, or shortsighted. Some of us care about others. Some of us believe in science. Some of us want the U.S. to be part of the international community and obey international law. Polls show some of us even care about the environment.

But caring is not enough. Nor is it enough to drive a Prius, light your house with compact fluorescents lights, and turn down your thermostat - as important as these things are. Global warming and climate change are coming too fast. The threat is too great. Political change is imperative - now.

We should praise Congresswoman Louise Slaughter for her excellent record on this issue and hope for the best from newcomer Brian Higgins. But let's remove those from office who support Bush's plan for climate catastrophe - like Congressman Tom Reynolds. Tom, there is no excuse for putting the interests of the fossil fuel industry ahead of the interests of our children and grandchildren.

Governor George Pataki's environmental record is pretty good but we need to pressure him to initiate a Carbon Cap program to limit carbon dioxide emissions from New York State power plants.

In Jamestown, citizens should be demanding that their municipal utility enter the 21st century and abandon its plans to build a new coal burning electrical generating plant. Coal is almost all carbon. Burning it produces twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of energy than natural gas. Jamestown should be meeting its future energy needs with improved energy efficiency and natural gas or bio-fuels generation.

America, wake up and smell the coffee. Scientists tell us that to stabilize the climate we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70%, not just the 5% mandated by the Kyoto treaty. To get there we will need a sea change in energy policy - dramatic improvements in energy efficiency and conservation, huge cuts in fossil fuel use, especially coal and oil, and rapid development of renewable energy resources. The rest of the world is waiting for us to come to our senses.