The old joke goes, “How can you tell a politician is lying?” to which the answer is, “His lips are moving.” At this year's Democratic Convention, former President Bill Clinton's famously tremulous lip was moving plenty when he blamed the current administration for squandering the world's goodwill after 9/11 by rejecting, among other things, the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. This is hogwash. The Bush Administration announced its opposition to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Kyoto long before 9/11, but also never actually withdrew from the treaty. The truth is that both parties are confused about what to do over global warming.<?xml:namespace prefix = u2 /><?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Vice President Dick Cheney and other officials announced the administration's opposition to Kyoto in March 2001, six months before 9/11, arguing that Kyoto would seriously harm the American economy and that the treaty was unfair in that it did not require developing nations to cut their energy use. They echoed the U.S. Senate's 95-0 Sense of the Senate vote against ratifying any such treaty—a stunning display of bipartisan unity and a reason Clinton never submitted Kyoto to the Senate for ratification. However, while Cheney blasted Kyoto, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters that, since Kyoto had not been ratified, there was nothing to withdraw from.
As a result, the Clinton-era U.S. signature on the Kyoto Protocol remains in place. But that's not all. The administration continues to send around 30 bureaucrats to each international junket dedicated to discussing this jobs-destroying measure. The protocol is still not in effect. It requires Russia's ratification, and the Russians are having their own debate about the harm it will cause to their growing economy. The Russians are also concerned that the treaty imposes no limits on their competitors, China and India. They also point out, as the Russian Academy of Sciences has, that the treaty's effect would be to reduce the projected global temperature by a minuscule amount by the year 2100.
The Bush Administration therefore exists in a sort of climate change limbo, signed on to a treaty it supposedly opposes, perhaps reliant on the Kremlin to save the American economy from it. (It might consider that American action to remove the nation's signature from the Treaty might embolden the Russians to reject the protocols outright.)
Yet Bush's opponents have no clear line on the subject either. Al Gore's support for ratification is absent from the 2004 Democratic Party Platform and few speakers at the convention mentioned the 'K-word.’ John Kerry himself told Business Week that he believed Kyoto is flawed—as he should, having voted against it in 1997—but says he will “return to the table to fix it.”
How he might “fix it” is unclear. If he plans to lessen the economic impact of energy suppression, then Kyoto will do even less to reduce global warming than it does now. If he seeks to entice China and India to cut their energy use, he should remember that both nations have announced that they will accept no limits on their emissions.
Neither side vying for the nation's trust in November has a coherent strategy on global warming. Republicans say they oppose Kyoto but are doing nothing to stop it from coming into effect. Democrats say they will fix Kyoto, but have no remotely plausible suggestions for doing so.
In the meantime, the rest of the world waits on Russia, not America. If Russia ratifies, Kyoto will come into effect and attempts to fix it will come to naught. While America's signature remains on the treaty, environmental activists and foreign governments will attempt to get America to abide by Kyoto. Both sides claim to recognize that Kyoto as it stands is a threat to American jobs and standard of living. Yet neither side seems prepared to do a thing about it. Bill Clinton, the master of prevarication, should recognize that.