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Bob Tippee

That a geographic pattern of opinion has become part of the controversy over global warming suggests a what-if mind experiment that might be illuminating.

Europe, as anyone paying attention knows, rightly claims leadership on responses to global warming and has raced ahead of everyone else on the issue. Prominent among "everyone else" is the US.

The Europe Union has led support for the Kyoto Treaty on Climate Change and has its own program to pursue Kyoto targets. Some non-European countries have followed. Some, prominently the US, have not.

The geographic dimension of the controversy has settled into something like this: European advocates for prompt and costly warming responses assert that others, prominently Americans, are behind them on acceptance of the need for aggressive precaution and eventually must come around. Others, prominently Americans, argue that Europeans can tax themselves into economic torpor for questionable purposes if they want to but shouldn't expect others to follow them over the cliff.

The impasse obscures scientific findings that might shed light on what and for what reasons humanity actually should do something about the greenhouse gases it puts into the atmosphere. It also evokes unflattering speculation about motives.

The European side attributes American reluctance to support the Kyoto Treaty to a predilection for fat vehicles. The American side attributes the European urge for action to a predilection for fat taxes.

To some extent, too, anti-Americanism energizes European fervor on the subject. A glance at the European press makes clear that the sentiment exists, which is not to say reciprocal views don't show up in the US.

The question here is the degree to which antagonism toward the US compels European politics on climate change. Hence the mind experiment:

What if the US and not Europe had jumped ahead of the world on global warming responses and acted as an early advocate of Kyoto and its progeny? Would Europe now be wondering if the remedies, given large uncertainty about the likely effects, weren't a bit hasty?

Or is this one of those global warming questions no one is supposed to ask?

(Online Dec. 30, 2005; author's e-mail:

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