November 29, 2000
A look at the intensifying politics of global warming in the wake of the summit at The Hague. Ray Suarez leads a discussion with Gregg Easterbrook, author of "A Moment on the Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism," and Mark Hertsgaard, author of "Earth Odyssey: Around the World in Search of our Environmental Future."
RAY SUAREZ: Though there is a growing consensus on the science of global warming, the politics remain fractured, even after years of debate. Three years ago, 160 countries met in Japan and drafted a treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, outlining how the world could reduce global warning. By 2012, the U.S. and other industrialized nations would cut emissions of global-warming gases five percent below their 1990 levels.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: (1997) So on behalf of President Clinton I call on all Americans in our best bipartisan tradition to join together in this critical undertaking.
RAY SUAREZ: Though the Clinton administration signed on to the deal, the U.S. Congress has not yet ratified it. This month, representatives from around the globe gathered once again, at The Hague in the Netherlands. The mission this time, agreeing on specific ways to implement the '97 treaty. After marathon sessions and angry disputes, the conference collapsed this past Sunday.
SPOKESMAN: There is no deal. It's closed down.
RAY SUAREZ: European Union and U.S. delegates battled at the Hague. The United States releases 30 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, and it would pay the most for hitting the Kyoto targets. The U.S. wanted credit toward reaching Kyoto goals by using what experts call carbon sinks. In photosynthesis, trees and other plants draw carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, out of the air and stash it in the ground or in wood, forming sinks and helping to cool the climate. But other industrialized nations with fewer open spaces, like England and France, objected. They said the Americans were avoiding the tough steps of reducing their fossil fuel use, and creating loopholes, essentially getting something for nothing. Another area of dispute: The trading of pollution credits-- in essence, whether and how to allow the right to trade pollution credits between industrialized and developing nations. The breakdown left many upset.
RODA VERHEYEN: I am incredibly angry. I am incredibly sad. I have already cried now, but anger prevails. I think this is an absolute disaster for the climate. It is a disaster for millions of people who have been watching governments here for weeks, who have been watching governments for three years, try to come to an agreement that can be implemented.
RAY SUAREZ: To date, no industrialized nation has ratified the Kyoto protocol. Another meeting is set for Morocco next year.
|Trying to get through Kyoto the easy way?|
RAY SUAREZ: And now we get two perspectives on the climate talks from writers Gregg Easterbrook, a senior editor at the New Republic and author of "A Moment on the Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism"; and Mark Hertsgaard, author of "Earth Odyssey: Around the world in search of our environmental future." Gregg Easterbrook, for a long time Kyoto was portrayed at its core as an argument between the developing word and the rich industrial world. How did this end up in the Hague coming down to an argument between Europe and the United States?
GREGG EASTERBROOK, Author: I think because the United States and Europe have very different perspectives. The United States proposed a realistic, practical pragmatic plan that could be passed and put into effect. The Europeans were more interested in ideological posturing. Certainly not all of them but I think France and Germany saw that as an opportunity to denounce the United States -- were more interested in punitive restrictions on American industry than they were on practical economic tools such as carbon trading which have a much greater potential for reducing greenhouse gases in the world.
RAY SUAREZ: So you reject the critique specifically from those countries you mentioned that said the United States was trying to get through Kyoto the easy way?
GREGG EASTERBROOK: Oh, yes. This deal was torpedoed by the European Union and very foolishly so. Now, it doesn't mean that there won't be a better deal at some point in the future, but what the Clinton administration proposed was carefully thought through and practical. And, yes, it wasn't exactly what the Europeans want but the United States is the 500-pound gorilla of the global warming issue today, and if you want that gorilla to eat fewer bananas, you are going to have to give him a deal that he is willing to accept and especially that the U.S. Senate is willing to ratify.
RAY SUAREZ: Mark Hertsgaard, do you agree with that analysis?
MARK HERTSGAARD, Author: I'm afraid I don't, no. Look, the United States was trying to get something for nothing -- largely with this talk about how forests are going to solve all the problems -- these sinks that you mention in your setup piece. But, look, those sinks are operating now and that is not getting us closer to solving the problem. And you know, when Gregg says that this was a practical program, it was practical in the sense perhaps of what was needed to get through the United States Congress. But you cannot blame other countries for being impatient with that line of reasoning. Look, the planet does not care that the United States Congress like an ostrich want to stick its head in the sand on this issue. This problem is here. We have to do something about it or the 21st century is going to be a very hot place and what the United States proposal offered was really not enough to get us where we need to go on this.
|The heart of the European response|
RAY SUAREZ: Some of the early reporting coming out of The Hague, Mark Hertsgaard, mentioned that had even though it was very combative they were close and that some of the final clashes came over specific formulas. Were they really that close to coming out of The Hague with an agreement?
MARK HERTSGAARD: Well, you know, it's hard for to us know. We weren't there in the room, but it sounds like it was pretty close. There was a handshake deal between 3 o'clock in the morning between U.S. and European negotiators and what happened was when the European negotiators went back to their people, they couldn't sell it, because there was loopholes big enough to drive a supertanker through in the view of the Europeans, and, you know, green politics and green points of view in Europe are simply much stronger than they are in the United States. And the NGOs and the green parties were not going to sit still for is that.
RAY SUAREZ: Is there a price to be paid for either side coming away from The Hague with no agreement?
GREGG EASTERBROOK: Well, I think Europe should pay, especially France and Germany, should pay a high price for looking very foolish. They talk greener than thou -- they say they want global warming progress but here they have the United States willing to agree to something and they torpedo the deal. And the deal that is being proposed is not just papering over the issue. Carbon trading would have the effect of transferring American capital and technology to the developing world to make energy use more efficient there.
RAY SUAREZ: Let me have you stop right there and explain for those who haven't been following the issue what carbon trading is. Would there be an exchange?
GREGG EASTERBROOK: The basic principle that has been endorsed by economists all over the spectrum -- from Paul McCracken, former chief economic adviser to Ronald Reagan -- to left wing environmental economists is that, we would trade the right to emit carbon dioxide, trade it mainly with the developing world where energy use is much more inefficient than it is in the West. The effect of such trades would be that American companies would pay power plants say in China that Mark is very familiar with, where he's traveled a lot, Chinese power plants burn six times as much coal per unit of energy produced and thus six times the greenhouse gases as powers plants in the United States. If we used American technology and American capital to improve the efficiency of those power plants, greenhouse gases would decline, Chinese acid rain would decline, and this could be done at a much lower price than realizing marginal improvements in the United States. Economists across the spectrum back this idea.
RAY SUAREZ: Just so I understand this better, what would be the incentive for American capital to help put those investments in place to reduce Chinese emissions? Would they get some give on the United States side of the Pacific?
GREGG EASTERBROOK: Yes, they would get out of - in the European language - having to cut their own emissions themselves. There would be permits. You either have to cut your own emissions or you could buy reductions in emissions from other countries, and America certainly could more cheaply buy reductions from developing world countries than it could stage the reductions itself. This is at the heart of the European response. Europe emotionally wanted to see the United States suffer in this agreement. They wanted us to be hurt. And the proposal that we made would have been much better for the planet, cheaper, faster in terms of greenhouse reductions but it wouldn't have hurt us and that to Europe was emotionally unacceptable.
RAY SUAREZ: Mark Hertsgaard.
MARK HERTSGAARD: I don't know how Gregg knows that the Europeans want to hurt us. I would be interested to know how he is able to read their minds -- but I do want to agree with him about the importance of changing energy patterns in China, in India, and elsewhere. Yes, there is a strong economic argument for doing that. I don't think you need The Hague proposals to make American capital profitable in this sense - there's a huge market out there. We should be going after it whatever happens in The Hague. But, the politics of this are very important. You cannot - if you are the United States and you are the 800-pound gorilla - you cannot expect the rest of the world to restrain its energy use when you don't want to do it at home. That is simply a nonstarter. In China, for example, when you talk to the officials there, they will say, look, we are not, how dare you preach to us about this when you don't want to change at home? You know, just this last week in India, there are riots in the streets of New Delhi. Why? Because the Supreme Court of India is shutting down polluting factories. Those workers and the owners of those small factories are saying, look, how dare you put us out of work. The 55 dollars I earn a month is keeping my family alive; and yet Delhi is one of the most polluted spots on the planet.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, how did that visit itself on the deliberations in The Hague, though?
MARK HERTSGAARD: Not enough.
RAY SUAREZ: Did the third world end up being a bystander to a Euro American fight?
MARK HERTSGAARD: Well, I think that was one of the real oversights there. And that issue unfortunately does tend to get left to the end of so much of both the political discussions and the media discussions, but, look, this is where the climate change game is going to be won or lost, is in China, India, Brazil, Mexico, these countries that are going to have a better life in the next 20 years no matter what we do. And we have to find a way to power their economies with solar and non-carbon based fuels. We should be doing that no matter what happens in The Hague because it's profitable for our companies but it doesn't help for us to be saying, no, no, we can't possibly change here in the United States.
|Can the Kyoto treaty be saved?|
RAY SUAREZ: Gregg Easterbrook, is Kyoto dead?
GREGG EASTERBROOK: No, it's not dead. The treaty itself, negotiations will continue. What has been, what was signed in Kyoto may fail, but if it fails, we revert to the framework convention on climate change, the treaty that has been ratified by the United Senate that would require us to continue negotiating and perhaps we'll come up with a better and more flexible deal. Other nations are interested and India that Mark mentions is a great example. Three years ago at Kyoto, India was very opposed. They felt greenhouse restrictions were some kind of conspiracy to take away their economic development. Now they favor the treaty; they've realized it would result in a shift of capital to the developing world. India is one of the biggest backers of the Kyoto Treaty too, and I think many developing countries, once they understand that carbon trading will mainly benefit the poor nations of the world will be in favor of it. It's Europe that is standing in the way.
RAY SUAREZ: Really quickly, Mark, does who becomes President of the United States in January have a lot to say about the future of Kyoto?
MARK HERTSGAARD: I think not. Because you know, obviously Mr. Bush from an oil industry background is not going to be much of a leader but Mr. Gore wasn't either in the past eight years. The real problem is in Congress. They, 95-0 were against Kyoto before it was even signed. So that is the real issue is the fact that the Congress responds so much to big oil money and the public. You know, Americans are very used to and spoiled by having very cheap energy. And that is just not going to be able to continue.
RAY SUAREZ: Do you agree with that?
GREGG EASTERBROOK: In the short-term I think Mark is correct. In the long-term I think reforms are possible. A post-fossil fuel economy is in our interest regardless of what happens to the climate. Eventually, we will need to move beyond fossil fuels. And I think eventually Congress will understand that. Market forces may help bring it about. The United States certainly could benefit from higher energy taxes if other taxes were cut at the same time so the net effect on consumers would not increase - many economists have endorsed that as well. And at some point Congress may wake up.
RAY SUAREZ: Gregg Easterbrook, Mark Hertsgaard, gentlemen, thank you both.