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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 4, 2001

U.S. a world leader? Not on global warming

Many observers were surprised when delegates to the 1997 conference on global warming at Kyoto, Japan, were able to hammer out an international treaty.

The obstacles had been immense — not least being the reluctance of the United States, the world's greatest polluter, to lead the way by taking the biggest steps to clean up its act.

Representing the Clinton administration, however, Vice President Al Gore met the rest of the delegations halfway, and the treaty was signed.

Environmentalists saw the protocol mainly as symbolic — just a start, but an important one. But the Senate voted 95-0 against ratification.

Last week, the Bush, administration made it clear that "we have no interest in implementing" the Kyoto accord.

Although that position was no surprise to those who understood Bush's oil business background (his attention these days is fixed on exploiting oil in the unspoiled Alaska tundra), America's allies in Europe and Japan were stunned and angered.

American responsibility to provide leadership on the global warming issue is clear. The United States releases about 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, yet represents only 4 percent of its population. And as the world's richest economy, it can afford to show the way.

The Washington Post points out another problem with Bush's position on the Kyoto accord: "To many U.S. allies, the decision confirms a troubling willingness by the White House's new occupant to take the United States off on solo tacks, without consultations with trusted governments. Leaders in Japan and Western Europe see that tendency as well behind a recent U.S. decision to go slow on talks with North Korea."

A Clinton administration analysis of the global-warming agreements reached in Kyoto suggests that the proposed changes would eventually add a total of $70 to $100 a year to the average American household budget.

That's serious money. But measure it against the absolute economic losses occurring because of weather change — droughts, storm damage and crop failures.

It's clear that if the United States doesn't take the lead, the Kyoto accord will accomplish little and global warming will steal a march on us. Bush must learn that America's position of dominance doesn't give it the freedom to march arrogantly to its own drummer, but the responsibility to lead.