Europe is understandably furious, with Sweden which currently holds the chair of the European Union describing Bush's move as "appalling and provocative," and the EU vowing to send a top-level delegation to plead with Bush to reverse his decision. But the President is unlikely to be swayed by Scandinavian invective, or even by Europe's reasoned entreaties to take global warming more seriously, after essentially rejecting the same advice from his environment secretary, Christie Whitman. Bush made clear Thursday that he was willing to work with U.S. allies to address the question of global warming, but would not contemplate any action that would hurt America's economy or restrict its access to energy.
For the Europeans, that's a sign that the world's biggest polluter has essentially turned its back on an agreement painstakingly hammered out over four years, if not already substantially watered down to meet the concerns of the Clinton administration. Most scientists engaged with the problem of global warming agree that the carbon-gas-emission cuts required by Kyoto are rather feeble when measured against the level of cutbacks urgently needed to avoid catastrophic consequences. But that wasn't President Bush's problem with the treaty.
The primary reason cited by the Bush administration for baling on Kyoto is that it exempts developing countries from the initial round of cuts, whereas industrialized countries would be required, by the year 2012, to have collectively reduced their output of the "greenhouse gases" that contribute to global warming to 5.2 percent of their 1990 output levels, with the United States (which, despite constituting less than 5 percent of the planet's population, generates between 25 and 30 percent of the total output of greenhouse gases) required to make a 7 percent cut.
The reason the international community exempted developing countries at this stage was the acceptance that the "greenhouse gas" problem has built up over a century, and that the contribution of the developing countries to it over that time has been negligible. They acknowledge that treaties will have to be expanded, but settled on the Kyoto formula as a starting point.
But Bush's comments about the economy make it clear that the administration would be unlikely to fall in behind the agreement if it were amended to include the likes of China and India. To understand the impact of the cuts required by Kyoto on the U.S., it's worth noting that while emission outputs in Western Europe have begun to stabilize and even fall in some cases, here they've grown a substantial amount every year since 1990. In other words, a 7 percent cut on 1990 levels may require a cut of 20 to 30 percent on current output levels cuts that can be achieved only by reducing consumption of gasoline, coal and other fossil fuels. In other words, a profound and expensive shift in everything from America's energy sources to its lifestyle.
European progress has certainly come at considerable expense to automobile owners average gasoline pump prices in the countries that have registered the most progress is close to $5 a gallon, deliberately inflated by taxes in order to discourage consumption.
The fact remains there is no way to curb greenhouse gas output without changing current patterns of corporate and even individual behavior. And no U.S. leader has yet been willing to confront the American people with that uncomfortable reality. Which means that Chancellor Schroeder may have been wasting his breath. President Bush, under pressure from the energy industry, recently tore up his own campaign promise to cut carbon-dioxide outputs from power stations. And if he's prepared to treat his own environment secretary like Cinderella, he was always going to give short shrift to the pleas of a German "Third Way" socialist.
On the other hand, the administration's position may also put the U.S. on a collision course with Europe. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer's promise that "the administration is committed to working with our friends and allies on a plan that includes developing nations as well as developed nations" will impress no one. Indeed, on the issue of global warming right now, the U.S. may find that friends and allies are few and far between.