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LAY OF THE LAND

Roadless reversal | Junkie Marmots | CAFE standards | Corporate excess | Bold Strokes | China leads climate change | Boise Cascade | Power Ties | Updates

China Leads

But United States refuses to follow

When President George W. Bush denounced the Kyoto Protocol, he argued that the 1997 agreement placed an undue burden on the United States to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions. "I oppose the Kyoto Protocol because it exempts 80 percent of the world, including major population centers such as China and India, from compliance," Bush wrote in a March letter to a group of Republican senators.

Ironically enough, it's developing nations like China that have taken some of the most substantial steps to address climate change. According to a June report by the World Resources Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental think tank, China voluntarily cut its emissions of heat- trapping carbon dioxide by 19 percent between 1997 and 1999. This achievement was not mandated by the Kyoto Protocol, which calls on the richer-and more heavily polluting-industrialized countries to lead the way. (For more information, visit www.wri.org/climate/us_policy.html.)

Although the exact numbers have been questioned by some scientists, China's energy-efficiency initiatives and reduced subsidies for coal and oil have clearly had an impact. "There's no doubt that what's going on in China is good for the environment," says Kevin Baumert, coauthor of the WRI study. "They're doing far more than any other country." Belying Bush's fears that cutting carbon dioxide output would "cause serious harm to the U.S. economy," China's economy grew 15 percent during the period when it slashed emissions. Meanwhile, U.S. emissions have risen every year since 1991.

Over the last century, the United States released 30 percent of the carbon dioxide stemming from fossil-fuel use worldwide-more than the 22 percent contributed by the entire European Union and far more than any other single country. (Bush's favored scapegoats, China and India, contributed only 7 percent and 2 percent, respectively, to the total.) To put it another way, U.S. emissions amounted to 20.5 tons of carbon dioxide per person-11 times the per capita rate in China and more than twice the rate in Europe. Whichever way you slice the statistics, the United States doesn't have to look nearly so far to find someone to blame for our warming planet. --J.H.

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