Is Kyoto dead? Grist readers cast their votes after reading a recent debate between Dan Lashof and David Victor. The results were evenly split, right down the middle. Optimism ran higher among younger observers. The “alive” contingent would have won had we included the votes of a high-school biology class in Boston that was asked on a midterm to read the debate and make a case for one side. Thirty-three of the students argued that Kyoto is alive, 11 argued that it’s toast.
A few selected responses:
No, Kyoto isn’t dead.
Many companies are taking a leadership role and, as Lashof noted, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have already slowed even as economic growth has accelerated, so Victor’s dire predictions simply aren’t coming to pass. As it becomes more and more obvious that the climate is changing, more and more companies, individuals, and communities will start taking actions that cut emissions and energy bills, further boosting the economy.
I suspect that one way or another, the U.S. will come pretty close to meeting its obligations under the treaty.
Center for Energy and Climate Solutions
The Kyoto Protocol is unimplementable and therefore will not be ratified by a majority of the industrialized nations
However, even un-ratified, the Protocol has been very useful in spurring additional energy conservation, CO2 reduction, and development of alternative fuels among industries and companies worldwide. Energy consumption per unit of output is trending downward impressively.
George H. Kuper
The U.S. lost about 10 precious years by not taking seriously the 1992 Climate Convention, under which industrialized countries agreed to stabilize their emissions at 1990 levels by 2000. Very irresponsible and arrogant. But despite this sad record, it’s not impossible for the U.S. to act decisively over the next 10 years and regain international leadership on this issue.
Denmark acted in 1989, in reaction to the Brundtland report, and was ready in 1990 with a plan for cutting emissions 20 percent by 2005 from 1988 levels. We are on track to meet that target, and hence I don’t buy the argument that the Kyoto reductions are infeasible — especially considering the possibility of buying some of the reductions abroad, through the flexible mechanisms of the protocol.
Denmark has expanded wind power so that it now provides 10 percent of our electricity, utilized indigenous straw and wood, eliminated heat-waste by changing large-scale electricity production to combined heat and power generation, and we are now heading toward 20 percent renewable electricity by 2003. So get moving, U.S. — you’re the superpower of technology!
Climate Change Advisor
Danish Energy Agency
I am not sure it would be fair to call this a “debate” as Victor and Lashof are not addressing each other’s central arguments. Victor is saying that the Kyoto Protocol is dead politically at least in the short- or medium-term, and I would be very surprised if Lashof disagreed with this assessment.
It may be a good sign that Leo DiCaprio is wearing a Kyoto T-shirt, but it is not clear to me that this is going to persuade any of the 95 U.S. senators who voted in favor of the Byrd-Hagel Senate resolution. I would be far more impressed if Rep. Tom DeLay [R-Texas] was spotted wearing a Kyoto T-shirt.
The more pertinent question that needs to be addressed by the two authors is this: Is the Kyoto Protocol workable even if the U.S. does not participate? Lashof alludes to this possibility. It is important to keep in mind that the U.S. has not ratified a host of international environmental agreements, including the biodiversity treaty, and many of these treaties are still leaping along.
University of Maryland
I tend to agree with Lashof’s point of view. In light of the fact that the pact can proceed even without initial participation from the U.S., Canada, and Australia, I think chances are that the Kyoto Protocol will come into force with initial participation by Europe, Russia, and Japan, with the other countries coming on board soon thereafter.
I do not believe the Kyoto treaty is dead. It has the potential to revolutionize the way the world views its environment and the way it conducts its business. There is certainly room for improvements, but to scrap the whole thing would be a big step backward in our evolution. Our only choice is to go forward.
I certainly hope David Victor is right that the Kyoto treaty is virtually dead. It deserves to be. It would place a monstrous cost on the economy and on people’s standards of living, and for no good at all. Even if global warming were a real threat, scientists’ models predict virtually no change in climate by 2050 as a result of implementation of Kyoto’s measures. This is in large part because Third World countries are intelligent enough not to commit to emissions caps — they would be happy to have us commit industrial suicide but will never go along.
But global warming (or anthropogenic climate change) is not a real threat at all. It is a hypothesis, expressed by elaborate computer models that only present their makers’ ideas of how climate is determined. Global warming is a prediction of climate models that have demonstrated very little predictive power as yet, reflecting the fact that they were built before a good understanding of what determines climate has been achieved. At least so far, this is a “threat” about as real as the looming invasion by space aliens — theoretically possible, but poorly supported by available evidence.
When you have a choice, always take a step that helps resolve the problem. What is better: an awkward step in the right direction or a paralyzing fear that leads to inaction? The Kyoto Protocol is flawed and inadequate, but it is clearly better than nothing. By moving ahead now, we reduce the need for more desperate and costly action later. After the Kyoto Protocol has been implemented, loopholes can be reduced, less developed countries can be brought on board, and emission reduction targets can be increased — similar to what happened with the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer. In the meantime, cleaner technologies will be encouraged (such as the new hybrid gasoline-electric cars), cost-saving efficiencies will be obtained, and, in time, people will be safer and healthier.
There is always a way to make better things happen. It is time for the U.S., Canada, and other developed countries to lead out by ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.
Bruce D. Laycock
Good debate summing up current positions. Victor wins. Sympathies with Lashof, but time is running out for reductions prior to 2008-2012. It is more likely that market solutions will bridge the time until the day when the U.S. Senate will eventually be forced to ratify a protocol.
I agree with Lashof that Kyoto is incredibly important, and that we should pass it and make every attempt to meet it. I also agree with Victor that we will probably be unable to meet the targets. Declaring Kyoto dead already, however, is a grave political mistake. My best guess, a combination of optimism and realism, is that Kyoto will be ratified, but we will simply miss the targets.
Get Grist in your inbox