The United States Should Focus On Its Own Greenhouse Emission Problems First

6 November 1998

By Stentor Danielson

Well, it seems like the world's most powerful nation is acting like a little child again. And this time, it's not just over the people fighting in some small country -- as serious as that may be. It's over the fate of the entire planet.

I am referring to the global warming conference held in Buenos Aires. Since the conference has lost media coverage to the election, Hurricane Mitch and other items, I'll fill you in on what's going on. Basically, last December there was a meeting in Kyoto, at which the world's leading industrialized nations collectively agreed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses. And now, in Buenos Aires, they're figuring out how to implement that promise by creating a plan to set quotas for emissions reduction and establishing incentives for complying and punishments for slacking off.

Sounds good, right? The world's leaders are finally getting on the ball and doing something about pollution while it's still economically feasible and before environmental damage becomes irreversible. But international politics are never that easy. The first snag to arise is that the underdeveloped countries such as China and Indonesia have said that they cannot afford to cut down on emissions, and pointed out that more industrialized nations are far worse polluters. The United States has responded by declaring that it will not go through with the emissions reduction plan until the developing countries agree to stop polluting.

That threat makes no sense. How does holding up the process put pressure on developing nations to cut their emissions? They have already stated that they don't want to have emissions reduction quotas imposed on them, so a stalemate with no agreement will suit them just fine. And meanwhile, America's smokestacks and exhaust pipes continue to belch out greenhouse gasses, aggravating the problem that the Buenos Aires conference is supposed to be fixing.

The U.S. has lost sight of the point of the conference by saying it won't cut its massive emissions unless various underdeveloped countries cut their microscopic ones. Delegates were gathered in Buenos Aires to cut greenhouse gas emissions, not to force nations into a treaty. This is an excellent chance for the U.S. to show that it isn't just a world leader because it has a large population, money and guns. The U.S. needs to set an example for the rest of the world. The U.S. has the highest output of greenhouse gasses and one of the healthiest economies in the world. So, of all the nations in the world, the U.S. can most easily cut emissions, and that cut will be the most effective. If the U.S. reduces its pollution, regardless of the outcome of the Buenos Aires conference, it will show the rest of the world that we value our planet and its climate.

The U.S. should stop demanding that developing countries reduce their emissions. If they could do that as easily as the U.S. could, they wouldn't be making such a fuss over being included in the Buenos Aires agreement. The reason they are called developing countries is that they have problems that prevent them from attaining the level of wealth held by fully industrialized countries. If the U.S. wants them to reduce their emissions -- which is a very good goal -- the U.S. needs to help them develop so that theu are capable of reducing their emissions. We can't just tell them to do it.

So, as the days go by, keep an eye on the progress of the Buenos Aires conference. See if the U.S. can stand up and take a lead in starting to fix a problem that threatens the entire world. Or maybe the U.S. will continue to act like a spoiled child, missing the point of the Buenos Aires conference in the politics of the situation and forgetting that every minute they spend bickering, the mercury creeps higher.

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