It is ironic that fifty two years before hosting the 1997 United Nations Conference on Climate Change, the city of Kyoto had barely missed being destroyed. It was one of four cities considered as primary targets by President Harry Truman’s secretary of war, Henry L. Stimson. The others were Kokura, Hiroshima, and Niigata. Gale E. Christianson describes Kyoto in her book Greenhouse as a magnificent city surpassed only by Tokyo in the number of its institutions of higher learning. Kyoto served as the seat of the emperor for more than 1000 years until the Imperial Household moved to Tokyo in 1868. All Japanese try to visit the city at least once in their lives. The city remains the heart of Japanese culture. Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines dominate the landscape. Japanese theater was founded in Kyoto. It was in this setting that the Nations of the world gathered to discuss the issue of global warming in late November of 1997 (Christianson 254).
From the beginning the United States was viewed as the villain. Undersecretary of State, Stuart Eizenstat, and head of the U.S. delegation, let it be known that no amount of pressure could force the administration to flinch. “We want an agreement, but we are not going to Kyoto at any cost” (qtd. in Christianson 255). Vice President Al Gore added: “We are perfectly prepared to walk away from an agreement that we don’t think will work” (qtd. in Christianson 255). It was quite obvious that the United States did not want to be there – and for good reason.
The reason had everything to do with cost and benefit. The Protocols would require that the United States reduce its 2008 – 2012 overall greenhouse emissions by about a third of the current levels. The economic costs are quite significant and the benefits are not. Tom Wigley, a senior scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, calculated “saved” warming under the assumption that every nation met its obligation under the Kyoto Protocol. According to his calculations, the earth’s temperature in 2050 would be 0.07 ˚C lower as a result (Wigley). According to Patrick J. Michaels, a professor of environmental science at the University of Virginia, a warming of such an infinitesimal amount cannot accurately be measure on a thermometer. “The benefits of Kyoto are so miniscule as to ...
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