We're All Environmentalists Now ... Right?
Eileen Claussen
Round Three: Concluding Remarks - September 20, 2000

Let's start with a few necessary explanations and corrections to the Round 2 comments, and then move on to philosophies and solutions. First, Gregg Easterbrook is correct in pointing out that the Kyoto Protocol has not yet been ratified by any industrialized countries. But if one asks why, the answer is relatively obvious. Negotiations to reach decisions on some of the key remaining issues, like how the market mechanisms in the treaty would function, or how compliance and enforcement would be handled, are still underway, with some progress likely this November at an international conference in The Hague. Several European nations have said that if this negotiation works out to their satisfaction, they will ratify the treaty. Others might follow, even if the United States, which has a larger number of issues requiring resolution, does not ratify in the short term. So perhaps Gregg is assuming that Kyoto is dead when, to judge by the scores of governments participating in the negotiations, it is still very much alive.

From Post & Riposte:

"It seems as if global warming is treated as the major environmental problem to be solved in the future, but please don't forget the disappearing ozone layer! In spite of the Montreal Protocol, it's thinner than ever this summer. If it disappears, so will all life on this planet. Potentially, this is more serious than global warming."
--Rory Cox - 01:35pm EST, Sep 15, 2000.

What do you think? Join the conversation.

The scientist James Hansen's recent report, which Gregg discusses in Round 2, did not say that carbon dioxide was unimportant. Hansen did say that the warming we have seen to date appears to come primarily from the other gases, and that a focus on these other gases in the short term might be more cost-effective. This is consistent with the Kyoto Protocol, which allows nations to achieve their emissions reductions from any greenhouse gas they choose. The United States has not prepared any sort of plan for how it would implement the Kyoto Protocol (in fact Congress has insisted that the U.S. not do so, as this would be viewed as "backdoor implementation" of a treaty that had not been granted advice and consent by the Senate). But at some point the U.S. might choose to implement a plan to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Odds are that it would choose those reductions that are most cost-effective.

As for Mary Gade's comments, she seems to have misinterpreted the Kyoto Protocol when she suggests that it does not bear the stamp of U.S. policy. The Kyoto framework is replete with the kind of market mechanisms and flexible approaches that Republicans usually applaud, all of which were proposed and fought for by the United States. For example, the treaty envisions emissions trading among nations, includes flexible, multi-year compliance periods, allows for joint projects between countries, and permits accounting for carbon that is sequestered in forests or soils. She is correct that the treaty enjoys little support in the Senate. But that can be ascribed in part to two issues raised by Congress prior to the Kyoto negotiations that the Clinton Administration has not yet properly addressed. Congress asked for an assessment of how much the treaty would cost to implement. It also stipulated that the United States should not agree to any treaty that does not require developing countries to undertake binding commitments at the same time as the developed world. The Administration has not provided a credible assessment of the treaty's cost. And it neither objected to the second stipulation nor was able to negotiate a treaty with binding commitments for developing countries.

Now that we have cleared out this underbrush, we can discuss philosophies and solutions. Bill McKibben wants us all to sit down and reassess our entire civilization in light of what we now know about global warming. Gregg Easterbrook is looking for a Third Way that might get us where we need to go painlessly. And Mary Gade is hopeful that new leadership will provide us with advanced technologies and cooperative approaches.

What is encouraging is that all four of us recognize that global warming is a problem that requires a serious response. I do agree with Bill McKibben that an effort beyond what the world is now contemplating is certainly required. But I am not sure that a global philosophical discussion (of which there are many already) would provide the necessary answers.

I would say that we need a second industrial revolution, in which we move away from fossil fuels (which are largely responsible for a great deal of the world's air pollution as well as our changing climate) to cleaner forms of energy. Is there a Third Way to get there? No major change, let alone a second industrial revolution, can possibly be free. Some of the most progressive businesses have already begun to invest substantial sums in new technologies, although much more is needed.

In the meantime, government leaders at the highest levels need to send a loud, clear signal to the marketplace that we must make a major change. Significant incentives must be put in place for the development and diffusion of new technologies, and efforts to reduce emissions and sequester carbon must begin now. For all of this to happen, we do need leadership. Let us hope that the people of the United States, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, elect men and women who are willing to provide that leadership.

New! Round Three: Concluding Remarks -- September 20, 2000
Eileen Claussen | Gregg Easterbrook | Mary A. Gade | Bill McKibben

Round Two -- September 15, 2000
Eileen Claussen | Gregg Easterbrook | Mary A. Gade | Bill McKibben

Round One -- September 13, 2000
Eileen Claussen | Gregg Easterbrook | Mary A. Gade | Bill McKibben

Return to Introduction

What do you think? Join the debate in a special conference of Post & Riposte. We'll highlight selected readers' remarks as the Roundtable progresses.

Eileen ClaussenEileen Claussen is the president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and the president and chairman of the board of Strategies for the Global Environment. She has served as Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs and as a Special Assistant to President Clinton at the National Security Council, and has spent more than twenty years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She is a recipient of the Department of State's Career Achievement Award.

All material copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.