With the U.S. being the world's No. 1 pollution producer, the Clinton administration felt it had to sign; it was a courtesy to developing nations where feeding people is still the first priority. But the U.S. won't be practicing what it preaches for a while. "Technology such as fuel cells still has to advance to the point where cutting emissions doesn't cost consumers," says Thompson. As much as Al Gore would love to cast Republicans as anti-Earth meanies, the issue may not be viable in time for his 2000 run.
BUENOS AIRES: The U.S. is finally ready to play along with the rest of the world and lend its signature to last year's Kyoto climate treaty, now on the table again in Argentina. But TIME Washington correspondent Dick Thompson says not even those stinging midterm exit polls will scare Senate Republicans -- who are upset that the treaty lets third-world countries off the hook -- into ratifying it. "It's not a potent issue yet," he says. "Reducing carbon gas emissions still means increasing energy prices, and Americans aren't ready for that."