Last year’s Vanity Fair essay contest challenged readers to “explain the character of the American people to the rest of the world.” It was clear the judges wanted an entry that would zing Americans. They got it.
“We champion civil liberties and deny them to those we perceive as enemies,” wrote Liz Richardson, a 23-year-old Peace Corps volunteer. “We celebrate peace while we wage a costly and perhaps unjustifiable war in Iraq.” If she had it do over a year later, perhaps she’d even edit out the word “perhaps.”
But one could win this contest with five words: “Americans mean what we say.” Directness is a trait common to most Americans. Sadly, global elites simply don’t get that. Consider the talks aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions to supposedly reduce global warming.
Representatives from almost 200 countries met recently in Montreal to congratulate themselves on having signed (even though they then ignored) the Kyoto Treaty. The United States was not on the official guest list, because President Bush has always opposed Kyoto. “I will not accept a plan that will harm our economy and hurt American workers,” he announced in 2001 as he pulled out of the treaty.
Compare that to the European Union. There’s supposedly no better “global citizen” than the EU, but as the BBC reported last month, “The European Environment Agency says that the 15 longest-standing members of the EU are likely to cut emissions to just 2.5 percent below 1990 levels. This falls well short of their target[ed] 8 percent cut.”
For some reason, even though most countries are falling short of the pledges they’ve already made, they’re eager to make even more. Before leaving Montreal, delegates agreed to hold new talks “aimed at producing a new set of binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions that would take effect beginning in 2012,” as The Washington Post put it. “We should not underestimate the strength of this package,” Stavros Dimas, the European Union’s commissioner for the environment, said about the new deal. “Kyoto is alive and kicking.”
Once again, the U.S. declined to participate in the charade. Our clarity was, apparently, confusing. “If it walks like a duck and talks like duck, it’s a duck,” American climate negotiator Harlan Watson told the other delegates when they tried to lure him into a new round of talks. That was too much for foreign delegates. “I don’t understand your reference to a duck. What about this document is like a duck?” one reportedly asked.
Maybe if Watson has tap danced around the truth a bit, said something such as “we’ll sign the agreement as long as we don’t have to abide by it,” the Europeans would have understood. Sort of like what Bill Clinton did while president. “Keep in mind, I supported Kyoto,” Clinton told the conference on its final day.
Indeed, he supported it so strongly that he signed it, then slipped it into his desk. He never bothered to submit the treaty to the Senate, where it would certainly have been voted down resoundingly. Still, the disingenuous Clinton is an international hero, while the honest Bush is a pariah.
You see, to global elites, Kyoto is like a lousy Christmas gift: It’s the thought that counts. “It was signed up to by every single nation on earth, and if America now tries to walk away ... I think this is not just an environmental issue, it’s an issue of transatlantic global foreign policy.”
British Environment Minister Michael Meacher said back in 2001.
Today, though, Meacher’s boss has come around to the American view. “I would say probably I’m changing my thinking about this in the past two or three years,” Prime Minister Tony Blair announced at the Clinton Global Initiative in September. “I don’t think people are going, at least in the short term, to start negotiating another major treaty like Kyoto.”
He’s right. World leaders may be happy to attend global gabfests and preen for the cameras, but no country is going to willingly cut its economic growth to deal with the supposed threat of global warming. Host nation Canada is the perfect example. By 2012, our northern neighbor has promised to cut CO2 emissions to 6 percent below 1990 levels. However, its own government admits “Canada’s emissions in 2003 were about 24 percent above 1990 levels.” An “A” for the effort though, eh?
As Kyoto wheezes on, the United States is working to actually lower carbon dioxide emissions. Since 2000, the EPA says they’ve dropped .8 percent. We’re developing ways to bury carbon deep in the earth. Technology and good old-fashioned American ingenuity will provide the solution, if indeed there is a CO2 problem. We’d just better not expect to win any awards for our success, because this contest, too, is rigged.