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Climate Tension Discussion

July 5, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: And for that I’m joined by Myron Ebell, director of global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a non-profit organization that receives funding from the oil, gas and automobile industries; and David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a not-for-profit environmental activism group funded by a variety of foundations.

Well, Prime Minister Blair, the current G-8 chairman, has been trying to turn up the heat, if you will, in advance of the G-8 conference. Myron Ebell, is this a problem that needs immediate response?

MYRON EBELL: I think Prime Minister Blair has gone out on a limb to show that Europe is making progress and he’s going to bring President Bush back into the fold on global warming. I don’t think he’s going about it in a constructive way. I don’t think it’s likely to work. And I think that if global warming turns out to be a problem, the European Union in general is going about it in the wrong way and they’re trying to hurry the solution. So I think that this is a problem that needs monitoring, but I don’t think it needs high-level summit attention as Prime Minister Blair seems to think it needs.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, David Doniger, is this a problem that needs an immediate response?

DAVID DONIGER: I think so. The science debate is over. The president’s voluntary plans and initiatives are just not working. Emissions keep going up in the United States.

We’re the only industrial country, other than Australia, that has not agreed to put a limit on its emissions. And the time is overdue. It’s much like the captain of the Titanic, who, if he had started to turn his ship a bit earlier, he would have had time. But if we wait too long, you don’t end up with enough time to turn the ship and you slam into the iceberg.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you said the debate is over, but just a few moments ago Myron Ebell said if global warming turns out to be a problem. In some people’s minds it’s not over, I guess.

DAVID DONIGER: In the scientific community there’s virtual unanimity that human emissions that come from our factories and vehicles predominantly are heating up the planet; our world is warming. Those are the first words of the statement that Prime Minister Blair wants the eight leaders to sign. And it’s time to move beyond quibbling about the science, into real action to limit the emissions, that’s the acid test of whether President Bush is making a real commitment here.

RAY SUAREZ: Does the president, Myron Ebell, go to the G-8 summit at a time when the members are pulling closer together in greater consensus on the size and shape of the problem? Or are they starting to pull apart from each other — is the United States an outlier or really emblematic of where the thinking is now?

MYRON EBELL: Well, I think the U.S. has been an outlier, but I think the thinking is clearly moving in the United States’ direction and in the direction of the policies that President Bush has laid out. David says that the United States has not signed on a treaty — the Kyoto Treaty — to reduce our emissions. The European Union and Japan have signed that treaty and so has Canada. They’ve ratified it, it’s in effect, but their emissions continue to go up.

I think they’re finding out that it’s a lot easier to sign pieces of paper than it is to actually reduce emissions. And when you look at the European economy, their growth is low, their population growth is very low. And yet their carbon dioxide emissions continue to go up at a close to a rate of our own. In Canada, which has lower economic growth, and lower population growth than the United States, their emissions are actually outstripping the United States even though they’re a signer and a ratifier of the Kyoto Treaty.

So I think that actually they’re starting to wake up in Europe and in Japan and Canada, that the Kyoto approach of trying to put the world on an energy diet just isn’t going to work. Moreover, India and China, which are the two largest countries in the world by population, are much closer to the U.S. position; they are unwilling to put their people on this kind of energy starvation diet when so many of them still lack access to electricity and all the benefits of modern industrial civilization.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, David Doniger, let me get your response to that point, that these other countries have signed but aren’t really doing anything.

DAVID DONIGER: I think that’s completely wrong. The European Union has put in place a market-based cap and emissions trading program, like we used here to deal with the acid rain problem of our power plants 20 years ago, a designed actually under the first President Bush and implemented since then. It’s working here for acid rain. It will work there in Europe for the global warming pollution.

It’s not about energy starvation, it’s about smart new technology. It’s about hybrid cars, it’s about windmills. It’s about new technology for using coal in a way that keeps the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. We can build power plants now which separate the carbon dioxide and pump it back underground safely away from the atmosphere. Everything about this is can-do.

And that’s why General Electric, some of the biggest electric power companies in this country, Ford Motor Company, Toyota — they’re all working on the new technologies that show us how we can live without the kinds of emissions that are the current practice.

RAY SUAREZ: But do they need to be in Kyoto to do all those things, Myron Ebell?

MYRON EBELL: Contrary to what David says, Kyoto is a dead end. The European energy commissioner has said in a German newspaper that Europe will miss its targets. There was a big debate in Parliament in Canada saying this is not working. New Zealand has suddenly figured out that it’s going to be very expensive. Japan has a fantasy plan to meet its targets. So all of this is a lot of — it looks good on paper, but in fact David got it right when he said this is all about smart new technologies.

In fact, the Bush administration’s program is to forget about trying to put ourselves on energy rationing right now, let’s invest the money in breakthrough technologies that will transform our energy sector. And those are the kinds of things — for example, one of them, of course, is new nuclear power plants using more modern designs. The Indian prime minister has said that he thinks that’s absolutely necessary if India is going to make progress on emissions. China has talked about building a lot of new coal-fired power plants, but they’re also talking about nuclear, whereas NRDC, where David works, is totally opposed to nuclear power.

So I think, actually, President Bush and his policies are really on the side of the future, and the European approach is a kind of dead-end approach that’s more suitable to economies in Europe that are not growing and that have declining population.

RAY SUAREZ: Briefly, it sounds like you think that the president is going to go to this summit and not really give much ground or commit the United States to anything new as part of it.

MYRON EBELL: I think actually that the Europeans are going to move closer to the Bush position than President Bush is going to move towards the EU’s position.

RAY SUAREZ: David Doniger?

DAVID DONIGER: The key issue is whether we’re going to stick with failed voluntary programs or have a market signal that comes from putting a cap on the emissions. It can be gentle, it doesn’t have to be what the Kyoto cap was.

It’s not about Kyoto. It’s about having a serious limit on emissions. That’s why the Senate, two weeks ago, backed mandatory limits on emissions for the first time. The majority, 54 senators. People like Pete Domenici, Michael DeWine, people who have never supported — Senator Robert Byrd, people who have never supported mandatory limits before are now on record saying the science debate is over, it’s time to do this.

RAY SUAREZ: Back in the executive branch, you don’t see the Bush administration?

DAVID DONIGER: Don’t see it there, but in the executive branch at the state level you have leaders like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Governor Pataki in New York, developing programs at their state level. Everybody is moving here and abroad and in our states and our cities, except for the White House.

RAY SUAREZ: David Doniger, Myron Ebell, thank you both.