A national disgrace

By Kevin Sweeney

Published March 31, 2001 9:00AM (EST)

Read the story.

Kevin Sweeney could not be more right in his assessment of our shameful unwillingness to take on the climate issue. (It should be added that this is not a failure of the Bush administration alone -- Clinton/Gore dragged their heels for eight years, and crippled the Kyoto accords last fall by refusing to negotiate seriously.)

Already we see the Europeans, disbelieving, trying to call us to our senses. We will spend diplomatic capital (and a king's ransom) on a missile defense shield, but walk away from the biggest issue of our time?

Though he doesn't know it now, George Bush may already have defined his legacy.

-- Bill McKibben

While I agree that something should be done about CO2 emissions, I believe that the Kyoto protocol was fundamentally flawed by their exemption.

First, this exemption will encourage the relocation of manufacturing facilities to unregulated areas solely to evade environmental laws, or as Jack Welch, CEO of GE, once said, "The perfect factory is on a barge, so we can float it somewhere else when labor and environmental issues are raised."

Second, the cost of retrofitting emissions controls is more than the cost of implementing them during original construction. If the Third World is allowed to build dirty facilities because of cost, then they will have a stronger argument not to retrofit, as this would be two to three times more expensive.

That being said, Bush is not disavowing the Kyoto protocol for these reasons. He is doing so as payback to political supporters in the coal and other industries.

-- Matthew Saroff

Mr. Sweeney's impassioned argument against President Bush for not supporting the Kyoto Treaty is ultimately misguided.

I fail to see how allowing a cabal of European and Asian functionaries to dictate American energy policy is "patriotic." The numerous examples of American ingenuity are not an excuse to turn around and approve a treaty that punishes the productive while rewarding Third World states who generate greenhouse material.

There are more constructive ways of improving the environment without the extraterritorial hand of the Kyoto Treaty. We should explore them.

-- L. Cortes

Sweeney correctly notes the harms to future American competitiveness ensuing from Bush's decision. If you want the rest of the world to catch up to American industrial practices more quickly, Bush is your man. If you want to sacrifice America's future exports of environmental goods and services, go with Bush. If you want your children to live in a dirtier, warmer, more unhealthy world, support your president.

It's crystal clear that Bush's vision for America and the world is more industrial rust belts like those of Eastern Europe and northeast China. More pollution means more sales for makers of air cleaners, I suppose; shallow logic, indeed. If Kennedy made us dream of the stars, Bush is happy for us to dwell in an increasingly hot and filthy gutter of our own making.

If this is American leadership, it's time Washington listened to the voice of the rest of the world. This unilateral action by Bush weakens America's relationships with its political allies abroad, and might well force waverers into considering alternative paths -- political and economic. America shows herself adrift and unreliable in foreign eyes, and favors today's old economy (especially its less-responsible owners, managers and shareholders) over the next generation of citizens, both at home and abroad. Now who will reap this bitter harvest of Bush's making?

-- David Shaw, Ph.D.
Hong Kong

President Bush has explicitly cited his concern about the negative impact of the Kyoto protocol, if ratified, on the American economy. This is a valid concern.

Because of our trade policies, a strong American economy benefits the economies of almost every other nation on earth.

Unlike the theorized impact of "global warming," a weak American economy would have a very real and indisputable negative impact on people all around the globe.

For this reason alone, instead of abdicating the U.S. role as a global leader, President Bush has demonstrated wisdom, courage and leadership by rejecting the approach and timetable embodied in the Kyoto protocol.

Mr. Sweeney blithely states, "If we commit to dramatic reductions in our carbon emissions, we'll spend much of the decade developing new and efficient energy systems and appliances." This sounds a lot like encouraging someone to jump off a 100-story building because you're confident they'll learn to fly before they hit bottom.

History has demonstrated time and time again that in an economic downturn, which Kyoto would certainly cause in the U.S., one of the first budget items that gets cut is R&D. Where then will the money come from to invent these new and efficient energy systems and appliances? Who will be able to afford to buy them?

I agree, as does President Bush, that we should strive to reduce CO2 emissions, and I agree with Mr. Sweeney that technology is the answer. But before we agree to drastically reduce our carbon emissions, let's invent the technology first.

-- Rick Wroblewski

Mr. Sweeney's indictment of George Bush's reversal on the Kyoto protocol is definitive.

The fractured and unpredictable administration indulges in its favorite sport, panic-mongering, when it purports to link carbon dioxide controls to Bush Jr.'s "sputtering" economy. Our grim executive dampens America's optimism with his malign malaise. He leaps into bed with sparsely populated Western states and crassly calculating corporate contributors, to reward their largess to his grasping candidacy.

When Eastern Europe emerged from the shadow of the Iron Curtain, its catastrophic ecological nightmare was a windfall for countless American contractors. When Iraq set the Kuwaiti horizon ablaze with raging oil well fires, bold Texan contractors reaped premium remuneration to blast them out. Environmental challenges were transformed into economic opportunities.

Now our once-visionary republic shirks the mantle of leadership, and slinks away from the fellowship of nations. With a friend like George II, who needs enemies? South Korea is left in the lurch by the sudden cessation of American support. Which hapless ally will be the next victim?

Bush purports to defer to the will of the Senate -- 95 co-presidents who declined to verify the treaty -- but slams his dagger in the back of EPA Administrator Whitman, who dared to show her backbone.

-- David J. O'Connell

President Bush has a responsibility to his country first, not the world. For years, the United States has had to sacrifice its own best interests for "the good" of the world. I am glad that we have a thinking president who doesn't just jump on the bandwagon without weighing the consequences. The environment is important and should be protected but not by any means necessary as eco-zealots would have us believe.

President Bush said he would meet with world leaders to come up with an alternative plan that includes every nation. It is only fair that all nations be held to the same standards. The U.S. should not be expected to shoulder most of the burden.

-- Andrew Aldridge

As a longtime environmentalist and a recent American studies major, I was almost moved to tears upon reading Kevin Sweeney's condemnation of the weak-minded, unpatriotic approach to international policy set forth by our "president." I love my country, and I value the possibilities that will open up when we learn to minimize our impact on America's resources.

-- Oliver Griswold

I was very pleased to read Mr. Sweeney's editorial. He is exactly right. What would have happened if John Hancock simply un-signed himself from the Declaration of Independence? President Bush's administration is an insult to our form of government. Are they still running a campaign or a government? I am embarrassed for my country.

-- Laura Cohen

Kevin Sweeney's opinion that it's a national disgrace not to step up to the challenge of reducing CO2 emissions, as we did the moon landing, ignores an uncomfortable fact. The moon landing was chosen only after a careful consideration of the project's feasibility. We went into that effort with some assurance that we could do it in the given time frame.

There is no question, however, that a serious reduction in America's CO2 emissions can only come at the direct expense of national wealth. For example, Russia's CO2 emissions dropped in the 90s as a consequence of its depression.

Make no mistake, America is seriously addicted to fossil fuels, and no namby-pamby Kyoto regulatory protocol will be able to break that petroleum craving. Technological development might help, in the form of solar power, nuclear power, hybrid-electric vehicles, etc., but the state's role in promoting these options has so far been mixed: the elevation of ideology above thought in high places has been harmful.

So, while I dislike Bush's policies so far, I see no reason to condemn his approach to the Kyoto Protocol. Why attempt the impossible?

-- Marc Valdez

Kevin Sweeney managed to put into words a genuine, passionate patriotic voice that is pretty much missing in current political dialogue. His argument for leadership on the part of the United States is one that harks back to the idealism and can-do spirit on which our country was founded -- that we should lead by example.

Bill Ford Jr. recognized this when he voluntarily decided to bail from the auto industry's anti-Kyoto efforts, and hopefully he will continue in his commitment of reducing emissions and improving efficiency in Ford vehicles, even though the current administration in Washington has decided to take a pass. I salute folks like him.

On the other hand, we have the flat-earth society (Freeper-types) and their ideological brethren (Republicans) yanking out silly statistics that proclaim cow farts to be the culprit behind global warming, not gas-guzzling SUVs. For them, the politics of greed and personal enrichment define "patriotism" as the freedom to become wealthy at the expense of everything else. The current approach of the neo-Bush White House is, "We'll tell you what we're not going to do" rather than what we are willing to do.

I can't wait for the next election.

-- Wendy W. Williams

With grace and power Mr. Sweeney articulated why we Americans root for the underdog, watch "The West Wing" and are known the world over for our overbearing can-do attitude. Bush's failure to understand this about America, and his cowardly slinking away from challenging opportunities, will soon make him the greatest political failure since Herbert Hoover.

Rave on, Mr. Sweeney.

-- John Passacantando

By Salon Staff

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