The USA Versus the Environment
Oil, Pollution and Kyoto

By Vexen Crabtree 2002 Jun 04

The USA drew worldwide criticism for failing to adopt the greatest international agreement for the reduction of some greenhouse gases, The Kyoto Protocol, which has been accepted by nearly every other country. This is despite the fact that the USA is by a massive margin the world's biggest polluter and very disproportionately so. President Bush has repeatedly stated that he will not adopt such protocols if they harm American economy. Commercialism and greed overcome all common sense and thought for the welfare of future generations. This failure causes hatred not only of the Bush administration, but of American commercialism in general.


1. The USA is the World's Biggest Polluter

The world's largest polluter, the USA, has recently not backed pollution treaties to reduce car emissions or petrol consumption. The US alone accounted for 36.1% of worldwide greenhouse emissions in 19901.

The US contains 4% of the world's population but produces about 25% of all carbon dioxide emissions. By comparison, Britain emits 3% - about the same as India which has 15 times as many people.

BBC: The US and climate change (2002)2

Many environmentalists understand that developing countries do not have the technology or means to use the most modern or environmentally friendly industrial equipment. But when such a rich country as the USA fails to take responsibility for its own pollution it really annoys a lot of people worldwide. I have created this essay just to concentrate on the USA and President Bush's effect on the Kyoto Protocol because I receive so many emails from people expressing a hatred of the USA because of these issues.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions of the three biggest polluters:

The USAEU CountriesChinaTotal
Population of world:4.6%6.3%21%31.9%
World economy:30%23%3.2%56.2%
CO2 Emissions:24%14%13%51%
Source: BBC3

China and the EU, both lesser polluters than the US, have one thing in common: They are both committed to further reducing their rate of emissions. Despite economic growth China has cut emissions by 17% since the mid 1990s. The odd one out is the USA. Immensely richer than China, but with less population than Europe, it emits more harmful chemicals than both of them. In addition, it has so far stubbornly refused to endorse international protocols designed to reduce such emissions. The world looks on flabbergasted as the world's greatest polluter cares not to take care or responsibility in the face of international pressure.

2. The Kyoto Protocol

2.1. After Two Decades of Leadership, the USA fell in the 1990s

In the 1970s the USA was a world leader on serious long-term environmental issues. The USA joined many groups in protecting endangered species, oceans and fisheries. Its honourable and wise actions continued through the 1980s.

In the mid 1980s the US led efforts to address the problem of the ozone layer. The 1987 Montreal Protocol imposed a stringent ban on the production and use of many substances widely used around the world: deodorants, refrigerants and propellants for aerosol tins. In 1990 the US brokered amendments to the protocol allowing India and China to join. The Protocol has now been ratified by almost every country in the world, and the hole in the ozone layer is closing. American political clout and creativity played a major part in this success.

General Sir Beach (2005)4

In 1990 the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (of which the USA is the largest funder) reported on the problem of global warming, which is by far the most important and serious environmental issue. It was once considered a long-term problem. Now it is upon us.

"In 1997 a protocol was adopted at Kyoto under which countries formally undertook to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by specific percentages of the 1990 levels. Bill Clinton hailed the Protocol as a historic agreement and signed it in November 1998. [But President Bush from 2001 opposed it and acted to] overturn his predecessor's signature of the Protocol, reverse an election pledge to treat carbon dioxide as a pollutant and revert to actions solely driven by domestic economic concerns." [General Sir Hugh Beach]

The pact requires industrialised countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 8% of the 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012

...The Japanese cabinet on Tuesday approved documents to ratify the accord after the upper house of parliament voted 229-0 vote in favour of it on Friday.

BBC News (2002)1

The Kyoto Protocol is not perfect but no compromise between countries ever is. Its safety precautions against greenhouse gases are no way near enough but it is at least a first step.

2.2. 2004 Oct: The Kyoto Protocol Becomes International Law

In 2004 September, Russia accepted it5, making the protocol legally binding internationally, amid praise from the UK Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett and the Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Russia accounts for 17% of the 1990 levels of global greenhouse emissions, and now in total over 55% of all greenhouse gases are accounted for internationally, which was the original aim. It is fairly obvious to many people that the commercial, money-orientated USA will care more for dollars than for worldwide health, and will probably continue to oppose and hinder the protocol. We can only hope that it caves in, that somehow the rest of the world can get through to the secluded American public and their government be forced to change its stance.

2.3. All Industrial Nations Except the USA Accept It

73 countries have become signatories to this pact1. Nearly all countries have ratified the pact including Japan and all 15 European Union states. In 2001 the United States provoked widespread international criticism by rejecting the Kyoto protocol2 as soon as President Bush was inaugurated.

3. President Bush: Why Doesn't the USA Support Environmentalism?

The US refused to sign the treaty, arguing that its economic interests would be threatened6. The US also opposed the Bonn refinement of Kyoto because of the cost to US business of Kyoto's prescriptions on the reduction of environmentally harmful emissions which contribute to climate change.

Under the Protocol, the U.S. is supposed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by seven percent. With four percent of the world's population, the country accounts for about 25 percent of the Earth's greenhouse gas emissions.

European Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström says 'But this ignorant, short sighted and selfish politician, long since firmly jammed into the pockets of the oil lobby, clearly couldn't care less. The talks in Bonn in July must now concentrate on world action independent of the U.S.'

Lycos News (2001)7

George W Bush has ... walked away from his international obligations, tearing up international treaties like the Kyoto Protocol and ABM treaty, which, however imperfect, have helped bring peace and environmental protection. The least we can say is that he has embarked on a dangerous journey. Why?

The answer is corporate payback. This has been the defining trait of President Bush's administration. His election was a straightforward capitalist venture for the energy corporations. Oil, gas, coal and nuclear companies are the power behind Bush; together, they donated more than $50 million dollars to put him in the White House. As soon as he was elected, it was payback time and Bush declared the Kyoto Protocol on reducing carbon-dioxide emissions dead and buried.

The message was: 'US corporations have the right to pollute the entire planet. The people and the environment don't matter.'

Bianca Jagger (2001)8

Book CoverPresident Bush on the Kyoto Protocol said that "this is the American position because it's right for America" and, just to make the point clear, he added:

We will not do anything that harms our economy, because first things first are the people who live in America.

"Why Do People Hate America?" by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies (2002)9

The attitude speaks for itself; America is a dangerous and irresponsible country as long it materialistically maintains that its own selfish wellbeing is more important than any long-term world wide problems, even where it is the USA itself that causes those problems! With 36% of the worlds' greenhouse emissions and 25% of the whole world's carbon dioxide's emissions, the USA appears to take responsibility for 0% of the consequences as long their bank balance is not affected.

There are people in the US government who wish take measures to reduce US pollution. In 2003 October an amendment to an inactive US global warming bill was backed by Republican John McCain and Democrat Joe Lieberman, which would have required power stations to reduce their emissions to the same levels that they were in 2000, three years ago, by 2010. This would be woefully inadequate, and "Senator McCain told the Senate that it was "a very minimal proposal" that should be the first step"10. Despite it being way below the minimum required, it was still voted out 55-43. "However, opponents of the bill backed the White House view that it would increase household energy bills and hamper job creation"10.

4. Pollution and Cars

The USA has the biggest cars and the biggest roads relative to all other countries. This is an incomprehensible phenomenon to the rest of the world, where car mass and petrol consumption are immediately equated with pollution and irresponsibility.

It is understandable that cars are a more relevant form of travel in North America, where public transport struggles to cover the larger distances, and there is frequently little other choice. But the world's richest nation is not setting a good example. In Europe, awareness is raised by most governments of the pollution and side effects of combustion fuels, and heavy taxes are imposed on these in order to fund public transport, anti pollution solutions and alternative fuel methods such as LPG and electric powered cars. Can the USA's government really continue to embrace its version of democracy and capitalism at the expensive of every human on the planet? The American Government under President G. Bush was almost put in power purely by money from large oil companies, but something needs to change.

The world sees our curbing of pollutant emissions essential and necessary that we do this. The USA seems to think that as it is impractical and costly it isn't going to do it! We must curb pollution... it doesn't matter how costly or expensive this is. It must be done. The world sees America's reluctance with disgust and horror.

5. Household Waste: USA's Good Example

The USA has some environmental issues sorted, such as household waste disposal. During the 1970s and 1980s the USA made itself indispensable in the campaigns to ban the release of "ozone" gases; thanks to its help the hole in the ozone layer is slowly closing, at last.

6. Methyl Bromide

An agricultural pesticide, this chemical is agreed to be completely eliminated in accordance with international agreement on account of its dangerous affects on the Ozone layer which protects us from the sun's radiation. But, despite the success that both underdeveloped and the most advanced countries have had in eliminating its use, the USA wants to increase its own usage of it for commercial farming:

The US team at the Nairobi conference said its farmers needed methyl bromide, but other delegates disagreed.

Developed nations have already cut their use of the chemical by 70%, pledging to phase it out by 2005. [...] But the US asked to be allowed to increase methyl bromide use in 2005 rather than eliminating it. [...] US farmers argue there is no effective alternative.

But David Doniger of the environmental group the Natural Resources Defence Council, who was at the talks, said the US government gave in to the demands of business. "The Bush administration is tilted way over towards the polluters and caters to their wish-list of regulatory weakenings," Mr Doniger said. [...]

US negotiators said they remained committed to the protocol. But the head of their delegation admitted there would now be pressure inside the US simply to ignore its obligations on methyl bromide. Environmental groups are concerned that if the US does not abide by the Montreal Protocol, some poorer countries will also decide to ignore it.

Although the damage to the ozone layer is continuing, scientists say the protocol is having an effect and should eventually return the atmospheric layer to health later this century - but only if nations stay committed to the cause.

BBC News (2003)11

The scientific community and the responsible educated world all agree that short term economic interests are not as important as maintaining the viability of life on Earth. The USA commercialist government, however, disagrees, and appears to think that as long as the US economy is bolstered at all costs, the Ozone layer won't matter. Agriculture in other developed countries get around the use of this chemical by using cleaner ones and better practices, and the USA government should be pressurizing its own agriculture to do the same.

7. USA Needs to do More

The USA polices the world's military nations, keeping check on their weaponry and intentions. It does not do the same with matters of global health or pollution. The USA is by far the world's biggest polluter and is also the country that is seen as least active in fighting world pollution. Failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol is a serious mistake and much of the world is left in shock and horror that the USA ignores these issues.

8. Deceiving the American Public: How the Oil Lobby Manipulates the Press

Many of the large oil companies are related, and together they have conspired (in history) to avoid legal pronouncements of their practices. Since oil and petrol industries have become under fire from environmentalists, moralists and activists the world over, they have fought back with well-funded public relations campaigns. These go as far as to supply their own scientists to argue against scientific truths and who appear on radio and news reports.

Book CoverWithin months of the UN producing its first report endorsing the idea of man-made climate change, in 1989, Exxon and other big corporations started setting up pseudo-groups. The first and biggest was the Global Climate Coalition which was soon lobbying in the corridors of power [...]. As a single example of its activities, the coalition made a classic appeal to the subconscious feelings of its American audience before the Kyoto conference in December 1997, when it spent $13 million on TV advertising, aimed at reining in the Clinton administration. It pitched the whole issue as a matter of freedom and patriotism. 'America has signed many treaties... but never a treaty of surrender,' was the key line in one advertisement, over a photograph of the Japanese surrender at the end of the Second World War.

When Kyoto nevertheless produced an agreement to cut emissions, Exxon, in early 1998, helped to set up a new front group, the Global Climate Science Team. [...] Between 1998 and 2005, ExxonMobil alone spent $15.8 million on forty-three different front groups, according to research published in January 2007 by the Union of Concerned Scientists, who described this as 'the most sophisticated and successful disinformation campaign since Big Tobacco misled the public.

[...]

A columnist at the Daily Mail [...] Melanie Phillips [wrote] a series of outspoken columns denouncing the whole concept of man-made climate change. 'Global warming is a scam,' she wrote in February 2002. 'The latest evidence is provided in a report published today by the European Science and Environment Forum, in which a group of the most eminent scientists from Britain and America shred the theory.' However, the forum whose work she was quoting was, in truth, yet another pseudo-group, created with the help of two PR agencies (APCO Worldwide and Burson-Marsteller) with the specific intent of campaigning against restrictions on corporate activity; and the report to which Phillips referred in such glowing terms was recycled work which had been funded by Exxon.

"Flat Earth News" by Nick Davies (2008)12

My page which criticizes the mass media explains why such lobby groups find it so easy to insert content into the news:

Modern journalists work at breakneck speed to process stories as fast as possible. Therefore most news services rely heavily on public relations (PR) material in order to rapidly produce the stream of news. Much of this news comes from trusted wire agencies, but these also rely on PR input. Because of these pressures, public relations firms and commercial companies are having a heyday and find it easy to insert material into news media. In general, over half of all news stories are mostly PR or contain substantial PR-sourced material. Journalists themselves do not check the facts or figures of such inputs, nor admit in the articles themselves that PR material is the true source of the information, so the news often appears unbiased. Powerful commercial lobbies use this weakness to pervert public opinion.

For example in the 1950s the smoking lobby created a waft of innocent-sounding and scientific-sounding groups in order to discredit government information about the dangers of smoking. Oil and petrol lobbies have spent fortunes on the same PR tricks, as have food industry lobbies. They produce scientific reports engineered by their own scientists, which serve to boost their own industries by deceiving the public. In short, don't trust the news media directly even when they are reporting on scientific-sounding research groups. Always check facts with long-standing scientific bodies such as the Royal Society. Rich and activist commercialist lobby groups have a set of well-practised and efficient methods for manipulating the news and public opinion. The scientists and welfare groups who wish to get real scientific worries about certain industries out into the open are not funded or equipped to run public relations campaigns. Only multinational information campaigns, legal agreements and inter-national political bodies such as the EU have the oomph to be able to fight back against such powerful industries.

"The Worst of the Modern Mass Media" by Vexen Crabtree (2009)

This situation of large-scale misinformation can only be rectified by a strong government that is willing to stand up to the commercial-media free for all, but, during the period covered by this article the USA has had its politics dictated by commerce rather than by long-term good sense.

9. Conclusion: Not a People's Government

A democratic government's function is to protect people, its citizens, and the citizens of the world. In capitalist countries it is the Government's job to keep commercialism in check and protect people from the inequality, oppression and money-orientated practices of big business.

Some people have been forced to wonder if the American government can still be considered to be working for interests of people anywhere in the world, or if it is indeed simply the world's largest corporation.

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By Vexen Crabtree 2002 Jun 04
Last Updated: 2009 Jun 06
http://www.vexen.co.uk/USA/pollution.html
Parent page: The United States of America: Foreign Policy and International Discord

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References: (What's this?)

Book Cover

Davies, Nick
(2008) Flat Earth News. Hardback. Published by Chatto & Windus, Random House, London, UK.

Sardar, Ziauddin and Davies, Merryl Wyn
(2002) Why Do People Hate America?.

Footnotes

  1. BBC News online "Japan ratifies Kyoto pact" (2002 Jun 04). Accessed 2002 Jun.^^^
  2. BBC News online "The US and climate change" (2002 Feb 14). Accessed 2002 Jun.^^
  3. BBC News online presentation on climate change. Accessed 2002.^
  4. General Sir Hugh Beach GBE KCB MC MA, in British Army Review (Summer 2005 no.137) article "Guarding the Guardians". Commentary on "Lawless World: America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules" by Philippe Sands. Penguin, Allen Lane, 2005, Softback. Quotes added to this page on 2005 Sep 17.^
  5. BBC News "Russian move on climate welcomed" (2004 Sep 30). Section added on 2004 Oct 01.^
  6. BBC News online "EU ratifies global warming pact" (2002 May 31).^
  7. Lycos News "US pulls out of Kyoto Protocol" (2001 Mar 28).^
  8. Brian Jagger article published in the Observer newspaper, London, UK. "America the Unbeautiful" (2001 Jul 22).^
  9. Sardar & Davies (2002) p81.^
  10. BBC News online "US global warming bill rejected" (2003 Oct 30). Added to this page on 2003 Nov 07.^
  11. BBC News science correspondent (2003 Nov 14).^
  12. Davies (2008) 186-188. Added to this page on 2009 Jun 06.^
  13. 2003 Nov 15: Added BBC quote on methyl bromide.

© 2014 Vexen Crabtree. All rights reserved.

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