'Cool It!" We offer, at no charge, this two-word new year's resolution to be scribbled on the mirrors of debaters preparing to gore each other on global warming.
Early next year Americans are in for a bombardment of opinion-molding on the deal struck last week in Kyoto. The temptation will be strong for treaty backers to scare Floridians with visions of imminent submersion and Iowans with tales of fried cornfields. The temptation will be equally strong for industry spokespersons to frighten consumers with scenarios of sky-high prices, frigid homes, and worse-than-Yugo cars at Beemer prices. And, of course, for labor leaders to galvanize workers with tales of closed plants and lost jobs.
Most of this is either premature, exaggeration, or nonsense. So, if the debaters can't manage to cool it, the public ought to - and probably will. We need a sensible debate on how to go about advancing the doable on improved energy efficiency and curbed emissions.
First in line to take the "cool it" pledge will be President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and GOP leaders of Congress. The former have hinted at a strategy of painting congressional obstruction of the greenhouse gas deal as Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich subjecting voters to storm and flood in order to defend the status quo for big business. Voters is the key word in the previous sentence, since the main Clinton/Gore tactic for eventual US ratification of the Kyoto protocol is either (1) public pressure changing congressional minds or (2) voters changing control of Congress.
GOP leaders (and, for different reasons, Democrat minority leader Dick Gephardt) want to maintain the bipartisan unanimity shown in the vote not to accept a warming treaty unless developing nations do their share of cutting back greenhouse gas emissions. And union ad budgets are likely to include funds to support that point. That's why Al Gore tried to preempt this argument before the Kyoto ink was dry - even though his team had signed the deal giving developing nations, notably China and India, a pass.
All right. If the debaters restrain themselves, what should America be doing?
1. Congress ought to consider with open mind proposals to provide tax incentives for industries carrying out research on new manufacturing processes and new products that improve fuel efficiency, reduce emissions, or provide alternative energy solutions. Much is already under way. More is needed.
2. The administration should continue attempts to woo major developing nations to do their proportionate part. Tens of millions of next century vehicles in China need to be low-emission - for China's sake as well as the world's.
3. Congress and White House (aided by environmentalists and business) should see that the fruits of R&D from US universities and industries reach other nations with minimum bureaucratic delay. That means exempting that knowledge and technology from future trade battles.
While climatologists move cautiously toward better understanding, the other actors have plenty to do that is sensible in its own right. Let's keep rhetorical heat out of that process.