Global Warming Issue Still With Us

Aug. 1, 2001
A RECENT HEADLINE in my local newspaper pretty well summed up the environmental community's view on the global warming issue: US left alone as 178 nations

A RECENT HEADLINE in my local newspaper pretty well summed up the environmental community's view on the global warming issue: US left alone as 178 nations sign Kyoto pact — Pressure now put on Bush to offer an alternative plan.

The story beneath the headline explained that the United States was the lone holdout when the world's major nations signed the Kyoto Protocol on Global Warming, the 1997 accord designed to cut greenhouse gases. Environmentalists immediately condemned the US action, stopping just short of branding the United States as an environmental pariah.

Editorial writers, bureaucrats, and environmentalists went to great length to threaten dire consequences for the US refusal to sign the treaty. They made it clear that punishment is in store, and the United States will pay a steep price for President Bush's intransigence.

The Bush Administration action was hardly a surprise, though. The President said back in March that the Kyoto protocol was “fatally flawed” and would cost too much to implement and enforce.

The view in the White House is that former Vice-President Al Gore got sandbagged when he signed the initial draft of the protocol in 1997. The treaty was rigged in favor of Europe and developing countries, such as China, India, and Russia. At its heart, the protocol was structured to handicap US industry by imposing higher costs in the form of emissions limits.

Basically, the treaty calls for 38 industrialized nations and former Soviet Republics to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, to 5.2% less than 1990 levels during an accounting period that runs from 2008 to 2012. Developing countries (these include China and India) face no targets.

The accord finalized in Bonn, Germany, during the recent United Nations Convention on Climate Change penalizes countries that don't meet their targets, requiring them to make up for any shortfall at the end of 2012 with bigger cuts later. Nations and companies that can't meet their goals would be able to achieve compliance by purchasing emission credits from other countries and companies that exceed their reduction goals.

Now here's the rub. The way the treaty is structured, Europeans can meet their greenhouse-gas emissions levels under an umbrella that is comprised of all Europe. Each country in Europe gets credit for the large reductions in carbon dioxide achieved in the 1990s by the United Kingdom when it switched from coal to natural gas and from Germany, which shut down numerous coal-fired factories in the former East Germany.

The result is that Europe lowered its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 4% between 1990 and 1999, meaning it is halfway to meeting its 8% target in the Kyoto Protocol. In contrast, the United States has a reduction target of 7%, but has increased its emissions by 30%.

Moving beyond the issue of fairness, there is a lack of solid scientific study to support the objectives of the Kyoto Protocol. This treaty came about in much the same way as the Montreal Protocol on ozone depleting substances that was adopted back in the 1980s.

Inconclusive studies and scientific speculation were turned into pseudo-fact in the 1980s by radical environmentalists who claimed that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and related substances were destroying the stratospheric ozone layer that protects life on earth. Under the Montreal Protocol, these substances were banned by signatory countries, such as the United States, Canada, and the countries of the European Union. A number of industrializing countries — including China, Mexico, India, and Brazil — were exempted and continue to pump out tons of CFCs every year.

The same process occurred with the Kyoto Protocol. Despite plenty of research, little is known about the impact of greenhouse gases on the climate. We know only that the surface temperature of the earth has increased by about one degree Fahrenheit over the past century. Most of that increase apparently occurred in the early 1900s, well before the explosive growth in power plants and automobiles.

Satellite studies show no evidence of atmospheric warming over the past 20 years. Scientists and pseudo-scientists base their claims on very weak computer models. Even the National Academy of Sciences has reached no firm conclusion.

These were among the factors prompting President Bush's decision to reject the Kyoto Protocol. Other countries also are wavering. Even with the vote in Bonn, it remains to be seen whether the Kyoto Protocol will be ratified as required by at least 55 countries accounting for a majority of greenhouse gas emissions.

Assuming the treaty is ratified by enough countries, it's not likely that the United States will be totally excluded. Congressional Democrats said they would mount a campaign to set up a US regime to regulate carbon dioxide, which probably would give this country standing to enter the pact later. In addition, the Bush Administration said it would introduce legislation calling for reductions in three major industrial pollutants — nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and mercury.

Bad science or not, US industry at all levels likely will have to come to grips with the Kyoto Protocol. For tank truck carriers and storage terminal operators, this may mean more extensive vapor recovery and closed-loop loading systems. More closed-loop cleaning could be mandated, along with more extensive vapor treatment. And that's probably just the start.

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.