Recently, The New York Times reported that French President Jacques Chirac is seeking to impose a carbon tax on the United States for its failure to sign the Kyoto Climate Protocol. Then again, this man is so intent on protecting the environment that he restarted nuclear weapons testing when he entered office in the mid-1990s. Nothing says “I care about the Earth” like releasing radiation into the ocean’s ecosystem! I don’t know what’s worse for the South Pacific: rising sea levels or a gaggle of French scientists toting weapons-grade plutonium.

French nuclear ambitions – and the irony of that phrase – aside, Chirac’s insistence that the U.S. be forced to acknowledge Kyoto, the 21st Century’s iteration of the League of Nations, represents a well-meaning but inherently faulty attempt to protect the planet against global warming. Unfortunately, unlike the pack mentality that governs his country’s fashion industry, the fact that “everyone” is party to Kyoto doesn’t make it right.

If climate change is truly a clear and present danger to Earth – which I firmly believe – then why is one quarter of the world’s population allowed to ignore Kyoto’s standards because they live in “developing nations?”

Conservatives perceive the carte blanche given to “developing nations” in an adversarial view – since we have restrictions and they do not, they are at an advantage. While pragmatic, this viewpoint has the whiny undertones of Chirac’s recent comments and does nothing to solve the problem of global warming – this mindset can be easily used to ignore the American responsibility for preventing climate change. However, in this age of globalization, industries can be easily outsourced to nations where Kyoto standards are much lower, underscoring the need for a single global standard on carbon emissions – something that Kyoto noticeably lacks.

That being said, the fundamental defect in the “developing nations” exception is not because of the problems it presents to the American economy. The clause fails to recognize that each molecule of carbon dioxide emitted on this planet, whether it comes from Buffalo or Bangalore, puts us that much closer to the abyss. While these countries do not have the carbon footprint of developed nations, their greenhouse gas emissions should still be regulated stiffly – like any other nation party to Kyoto – because of the potential damage they may do to the globe.

Ultimately, these technologies only encourage a stable economy in the short term – fossil fuels will most likely run out within our lifetimes. Building an infrastructure that will be obsolete within a century is hardly a good business model; by not making developing nations adhere to stiffer standards, Kyoto does nothing to encourage long term economic and environmental stability.

More importantly, the world can’t handle another Industrial Revolution without significant repercussions. While improved technologies may mitigate some of the irrevocable environmental damage that comes with industrialization, Kyoto should have emphasized the development of more sustainable technologies in those developing areas. Even if fuel remains when these countries become fully developed, they will not easily abandon their carbon-based infrastructure after having invested a great deal of time and money in it – more damage to the globe will result. Therefore, if world leaders truly want to effect change, simply being a signatory to Kyoto does nothing.

In the short term, Chirac may be correct – American support of Kyoto’s emissions standards is crucial to stem global warming in this time frame. To insist that we be taxed until we submit, though, is irresponsible – much of our nation, namely the northeast and California, already have pledged to reduce their emissions to Kyoto standards.

Moreover, thinking that American support for Kyoto will solve anything in the long term fails to take into account the future dynamic of energy technology. To put the situation in the words of another Frenchman (of Monty Python fame), Kyoto represents a veritable “fart in the general direction”- rather than a concerted global effort – to protect our planet against global warming.

Scott is a member of the class of 2008.



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