Saturday, December 10, 2005

A letter to the editor: weighing the Kyoto Protocol

I do wish my local newspaper, the Daily Review Atlas*, posted their op-ed material on the web, somewhere, but then, their budget is smaller than mine, it appears, so, when something particularly good makes it to the pages of the DRA, I like to post it where I can.

This past week, somebody finally got my-dad-the-geezer's goat.

Here is what the geezer had to say:†
Dear Sir:

An article in your newspaper by Beth Duff-Brown on 29 November (page 9) concerns the Kyoto Protocol and some of the subsequent diplomatic maneuverings associated with it. In the course of the article, Ms. Duff-Brown makes at least one statement that is incorrect, but is so often quoted that it seems necessary to set the record straight. The statement is the assertion that the Kyoto accord "has been ratified by 140 nations." It is true only that something like 140 nations have accepted the treaty, but only 72 have ratified it. The difference is that acceptance, as opposed to ratification, seems to carry no weight. It is ratification and not acceptance that is required to make the treaty operative.

While it may seem that 72 nations standing united against the isolated opposition of the United States (and Australia) is impressive enough to make the argument seem mere quibbling, opinions are to be weighed rather than counted. (My apologies to Friedrich Schiller.) So let us do some weighing.

First. The Kyoto Protocol is not an even-handed bit of legislation, even on its face. It establishes two categories of nations. One is the set of industrialized nations, named in a so-called Annex I. The other is all the rest. It is important to recognize that the provisions of the treaty do not impose burdens of any kind on the non-Annex I nations, but rather holds out to them the prospect of economic rewards of one sort or another from the others. They are voting in their own self-interest, which is all right; after all, the United States is voting (or rather not voting) in its self-interest. However, this was one of the reasons the Senate gave during the Clinton administration for not even considering the treaty. They insisted that all nations should be treated alike.

Second. The numbers might still be impressive if we confine attention to the Annex I nations: 27 of them have ratified the treaty. But let's weigh things one more time. We find that only two of the 27 are not European nations. (Those two are Canada and New Zealand, which creates an interesting parallel. Canada can be paired with the US, and New Zealand with Oz). One of the 25 European ratifiers is Russia, which was not prepared to sign until Putin and Co. learned that they could profit under the treaty by the sale of carbon consumption credits. That leaves 24 votes from a part of the globe slightly smaller than the US, and with about the same population. I will leave it to you and your readers to decide whether that thumb on the scale is too heavy to overlook. Whether or not we accept this strange kind of democracy (one nation, one vote, so that Liechtenstein and Luxembourg together outweigh our half-continent), the fact remains that Europe and the US are now engaged in a strong economic rivalry, and the voting pattern for the Kyoto treaty should be viewed with that in mind.

Sincerely yours,

Peter K. Kloeppel
Monmouth, IL

Oh -- in case I hadn't already mentioned it soemwhere earlier in my blogs, the geezer isn't just some crackpot old guy living in a small town. He's a retired college professor and then, later, retired particle physicist, followed by another stint as a physics-and-astronomy prof before losing his hearing (he seems to think it's a blessing, what with modern music becoming what it is, and having a spoiled daughter in his house daily). He has published articles on a number of topics, from US history to stuff far beyond my ken, and he writes greatly enjoyable doggerel.

Sometimes, his mind can put the fear of God into the staunchest of atheists.

*whose editors very kindly print my weekly column at no cost to me
† Of course, any typographical errors, here, are mine alone -rk

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