The Kyoto Treaty on Climate Change took effect Feb. 16 to celebration in Europe and indifference in the US.
The 141 signatory countries are committed to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2% from 1990 levels by 2012. The US isn't among them.
The standard view in Europe is that US President George W. Bush pulled his country out of the treaty in 2001. Europeans probably believe this largely because they dislike Bush. But it isn't so.
The president cannot have pulled his country out of a treaty it was never in.
Before the 1997 meeting in Kyoto, Japan, that produced the treaty, the US Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution promising not to ratify any economically damaging agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Then-President Bill Clinton, recognizing futility and never zealous about climate change, didn't attend the Kyoto deliberations. But his vice-president, Al Gore, swept into town when deliberations seemed to have deadlocked and signed the accord.
The dramatics gave Gore, one of the original warming alarmists, photo opportunities with like-minded Europeans and allowed Clinton to remain safely distant from a losing fight. As he prepared for his own run at the post-Clinton presidency, of course, Gore never missed a chance to grieve the melting of glaciers. But no serious effort emerged in the Senate to ratify the treaty that bore his signature, and Clinton never pressed the issue.
All Bush did when he became president was articulate political reality. Why Europeans found that so appalling remains a mystery.
With Kyoto in effect, several states trying to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, and international conformists making noise, however, Europeans probably wonder whether the US has undergone a political climate change.
They have reason to ask—though perhaps not quite this way—when Americans will at last submit to greatly increased energy costs in an attempt to manipulate a poorly understood system under a program likely to exert little influence on global average temperature.
They should watch Gore. His return to prominence in national politics will be a sign that Americans are ready to embrace Kyoto. It might be a while.
(Online Feb. 25, 2005; author's e-mail: [email protected])