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Kyoto Protocol - Global Warming

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The Heat Is On!

The U.S. government refuses to pass the Kyoto Protocol, and engage in efforts to stop global warming because it claims that such actions would interfere with its economic development. Environmentalists on the other hand believe that no cost is high enough to preserve and ensure the future of our earth, which global warming threatens. The global warming debate poses the dilemma of the costs of action vs. the costs of inaction and in doing so has pitted environmentalists and the U.S. government against each other; having environmentalists concerned with environmental protection and the Government concerned with economic development. These differences can however be bridged; it is in everyone's interest to conserve planet earth since it is a vital aspect of human existence. The conservation of earth can be achieved through the development of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, but in order to achieve this, the collaboration of the Government and American environmentalists is needed.

Global warming is seen in the rise of the earth's atmospheric average temperature as well as in the oceans. Carbon dioxide is said to be responsible for the rise in earth's temperature. Even though carbon dioxide is not toxic, it is the byproduct of fuel combustion. Its molecular composition traps heat that would usually radiate back out to space, this is then what leads to the intensification of global warming. Global warming is characterized by an increase in worldwide temperatures resulting in a rising sea level, caused by the melting of ice in the Artic, and altered rainfall patterns. These changes are thought to occasion extreme weather events like, hurricanes, tornados, heat waves, floods and droughts leading to the destruction of animal habitats and resulting in species extinctions.

Globalization, power and morality shape the global warming debate concerning politics. Global warming has been a pressing issue for about the last fifty years. Many initiations have been proposed to address it; one of the more internationally known would be the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is a binding contract under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It assigns mandatory targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to participant nations. The Kyoto Protocol was devised in Kyoto, Japan on December of 1997 and implemented on February 16,2005 without the participation of either Australia or the United States. One hundred and sixty-nine other countries and governmental parties have ratified this treaty.

The U.S. refers to the Protocol as "only a barebones framework of reduction targets and a hazy statement of the principles for meeting them" (Wirth 1). One of the Kyoto Protocol provisions categorizes countries into two classifications: developed and developing. Developed countries have stringent reductions of greenhouse gasses placed on them, whereas developing countries such as China and India do not have to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Many governmental officials, mainly Republicans condone the Kyoto Protocol as inefficient and a liability on U.S. economy. Initially under the Clinton Administration the U.S. seemed to have every intention of cooperating with the Kyoto Protocol, but somewhere along the way it seemed to have lost interest. Even then-Vice President Al Gore, rejected a proposition from environmental organizations to push Congress to reduce U.S. emissions from electric utilities, of which account for forty percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The Clinton administration did not articulate its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol but it might as well have. Its inaction conveyed the message that they were not interested. The Protocol set ambitious goals and if the U.S. was serious about reaching its emissions reduction goal it had to engage in the immediate formulation of an action plan. In part to blame for this inaction was U.S. Congress. Republicans had control of both the House and Senate. Because of Republican close ties with oil, coal, utility, and automobile industries, the implementation of any legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions was unlikely. This fact discouraged governmental efforts. Also another factor that diverged attention away from the issue of global warming was Clinton's pending impeachment. Both of these factors contributed to the Government's inaction regarding Global Warming.

The 2000 presidential elections further changed the dynamics dealing with global warming. The emergence of George W. Bush Jr. as president is key in the direction that the global debate has undertaken. He began his campaign with aggressive initiatives to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and generated support from other nations for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. He went as far as to sign the Rio Treaty, which seeks "the conservation of the planet's biodiversity and the fair use of its resources" (Encyclopedia Britannica). These efforts were greatly criticized by conservative Republicans resulting in Bush renouncing his environmental initiatives. Bush is closely affiliated with the oil-industry; therefore it would not be expected for him to pass legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions because that would harm oil business. This factor greatly restrains any action that Bush would take as a means of addressing the issue of global warming because he does not want to lose support from corporate conservative Republicans that endorse him. Additionally, Republican Congressional leaders argue that the Kyoto Protocol would economically inconvenience the United States as well as other developed countries.

In the National Affairs article "Science Friction: the Politics of global warming," Brian Tucker endorses the popular Republican point of view. He claims that the "Kyoto Treaty offers only insignificant reimbursement." According to him, the level of global warming that it will prevent does not outweigh the high costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He also believes that the target levels that the treaty has suggested for each country are unrealistic and unattainable and overall the treaty effects will not make a significant impact. He uses the example that France, as a means of reducing its fossil fuel emissions, made a transition from fossil fuel to nuclear energy. Sweden, South Korea, Switzerland, and Spain have the lowest carbon dioxide emissions and as expected the U.S. has the highest. Since France adapted nuclear energy so have other countries, the U.S. included. In the U.S. there are at least 109 nuclear-powered electricity-generating stations. However, despite the fact that it reduced its emissions by thirty percent it has only made a ten percent difference in the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.




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