NY Times Kyoto Article Ignores History, Detractors, and Consequences of Accord

A front page New York Times story on the global warming talks in Montreal chose to place all the blame for America’s refusal to move forward with the highly controversial Kyoto Protocol on the Bush administration. In doing so, the Times didn’t inform its readers about the history of this accord, and, in particular, that the Senate in July 1997 voted 95-0 against it. In addition, the Times completely ignored any of the obvious economic consequences to America if it entered into a global warming treaty that did not include China.Yet, that didn’t deter the Times from identifying a culprit: “In a sign of its growing isolation on climate issues, the Bush administration had come under sharp criticism for walking out of informal discussions on finding new ways to reduce emissions under the United Nations' 1992 treaty on climate change.”

“Environmentalists here called [the chief American negotiator’s] actions the capstone of two weeks of American efforts to prevent any fresh initiatives from being discussed. ‘This shows just how willing the U.S. administration is to walk away from a healthy planet and its responsibilities to its own people,’ said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate change project at the World Wildlife Fund.”

Yet, the Times chose not to address the history of this treaty. In particular, that the Senate voted in July 1997 95-0 expressing its unanimous, bipartisan opposition to then president Bill Clinton signing the Protocol. In fact, even Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) voted against the signing of this treaty, stating at the time of his vote: “It’s just common sense that if you are really going to do something to effect global climate change and you are going to do it in a fair-minded way, we need to have an agreement that does not leave enormous components of the world's contributors and future contributors of this problem out of the solution.”The Times also failed to inform the reader of the economic consequences if America goes forward with this Protocol without the inclusion of all the major economic powers, specifically China. In fact, Jonathan Weisman, while still writing for the USA Today, wrote about this very issue in June 2001, as well as the fact that Clinton administration economists agreed that even they underestimated this economic impact: “Economists from the Clinton White House now concede that complying with Kyoto's mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases would be difficult — and more expensive to American consumers than they thought when they were in charge.”Weisman continued:

“Clinton administration economists say that, in retrospect, their low cost estimates were unrealistic. They assumed that:
  • China and India would accept binding emission limits and would fully participate in the emissions-trading system, even though they never signed the treaty.
  • European opposition to emissions trading could be overcome.
  • Most industries and consumers would quickly adopt new, energy-efficient technologies, such as advanced air conditioning systems and gas-electric ‘hybrid’ cars, without financial incentives.”

Weisman then raised a fabulous point that has largely been lost in this debate:

“Since 1997, however, it has become clear that consumers love their gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles and aren't embracing energy-efficient technologies; China has no intention of participating in the treaty; and Europe still wants to limit emissions trading as a partial solution to global warming.”

Until this year, when gas prices exploded through $2 per gallon, Americans have shown little appetite for energy conservation. As such, if the citizenry appears in opposition to behaviors that would reduce carbon emissions, why should American businesses be compelled to? In addition, with the growing behemoth that is the Chinese economy – along with its exponentially increasing appetite for all commodities including steel, concrete, soy beans, chicken, wood, and, yes, energy – any treaty that did not involve China would further expand its competitive edge over the rest of the world, including the United States. Clinton administration economists appear to agree:

“Leaving China out of a trading scheme would double the Clinton cost estimate, says Joseph Aldy, who helped develop the estimates for Clinton. ‘We always thought the (emissions) targets were very ambitious,’ he says. ‘But the thing that made us really uneasy about our analysis ... was that if our assumptions didn't come true, you could come out with costs that were much, much higher.’"

Since 2001, energy prices have been exploding without America’s commitment to these ambitious emissions targets. As a result, it seems extraordinarily duplicitous for mainstream media outlets to complain about such rising costs while continuing to advocate America’s involvement in a global warming treaty without explaining to readers that this would add dramatically to their monthly energy bills.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.