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16.7.04

Kerry Vs. Kyoto

Yesterday I was reading Emery Roe's book Narrative Policy Analysis. He has a chapter on climate change, in which he claims that the problem with the discourse surrounding global warming is the word "global." It implies that the problem must be tackled at the global level, because countries acting on their own face a prisoner's dilemma or tragedy of the commons situation -- everyone wants to be the one polluter while the rest of the world reduces their emissions in order to stabilize the climate. Roe argues that getting the whole world to agree is an impossible task, but the discourse of global warming suggests that that's the only solution, and that we may as well keep polluting until a global agreement is reached. He suggests that we ought to instead focus on the fact that most steps that would be needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have an overall beneficial impact independent of their impact on climate.

Yesterday I was pretty skeptical. But today I see that John Kerry wants to give Roe's argument a boost (via Quark Soup):

Many news stories in 1997 referred to Kerry's support of Kyoto, undeterred by the Massachusetts senator's vote with 94 other senators for a resolution that directed President Clinton to not agree to a global warming pact that exempted developing nations. (Veep Al Gore ignored the Senate and agreed to a pact that exempts China, India and other developing nations from any pollution caps, while requiring the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.)

At the February ed board meeting, Kerry said, "I believe there is a formula to bring the less-developed countries into this solution. And that's what you have to do. You can't have the United States of America and the developed world reducing emissions, while China and Mexico, South Korea and other countries, India just going crazy spewing about."


This is a classic American dodge. It's the same logic that Bush used to give up on Kyoto altogether. Kerry, on the other hand, wants to renegotiate, renegotiate, renegotiate. It's leadership in word rather than deed.

As by far the world's largest producer of greenhouse gasses, the US is in a unique position to act without concern for being the "sucker" in a prisoner's dilemma. What's more, we're far more able to make reductions than are India and China. China is a major greenhouse gas emitter simply because it's got so many people. Developed countries like the US, on the other hand, produce far more emissions per capita -- and are thus in the position to reduce their emissions with less negative impact. But the longer we wait, the harder the transition will be -- unless Kerry also plans to renegotiate the US's emissions targets.

Kerry claims that he'll take agressive action to stabilize the US's greenhouse gas emissions. But it's hard to square that with his position that we'll only do Kyoto if China and India do. Which is the flip, and which is the flop here?

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