And at the bottom of the U.S. priority list: climate change

As science became the mainstream way to talk about climate change, it also led to a rise of using science to refute the idea that people should have to change their ways of living in the name of environmentalism. It is true that a focus on the science of climate change allowed scientists access to “both resources and decision making at the national and international levels” (Howe). It  was successful in putting the concern for the environment into the political sphere and making people aware of climate change. Unfortunately, by tying climate change and science to politics, it meant that climate change advocates could be quite vulnerable to any political change. Many politicians who opposed climate change used this narrative to their benefit by claiming that the science behind climate change was not concrete enough to warrant a response at the expense of the economy. Thus, arguments over climate change were solidified as a point of political contention.

The Bush Sr. administration was unwilling to sign the Kyoto Protocol for a number of reasons. One was that it was election year and Bush Sr thought it much more prudent to focus on domestic issues, as that was what the public wanted, rather than a conference that was asking for more foreign aid from the U.S. There was also less incentive for the U.S. to impress in the Rio conference after the fall of the Soviet Union. The USSR was the main competition for the U.S. when it came to influence over the countries of the developing world, and now there was no competition.The main reason, however, for the Bush Sr. administration’s hesitancy to sign the Kyoto protocol was the “no regrets” ideology that they applied to the principle of precaution. This essentially meant that “any action or policy to curb environmental degradation was assumed to represent an economic threat unless proven otherwise” (Howe). Thus, the heavy financial commitments to sustainable development along with the binding emissions targets that the protocol called for were both seen as threats to U.S. economic growth and could not be supported.

According to Howe, the American approach to international agreements on climate change has been about “maintaining the flexibility and profitability of U.S. business interests.” I think that these focuses, which are very “America-first,” make it really difficult to achieve the multilateral cooperation necessary to lower emissions. Under these objectives, international agreements with the U.S. about climate change are doomed to fail, because the U.S. does not want to accept any risk of economic burden for climate change, or at least will look for the least-cost option that will likely have a very minimal impact. I understand the reasoning behind not wanting to commit to any protocol or agreement that leaves the U.S. in an economically weak position, but I don’t think it is right for the U.S. to ignore our own role in exacerbating the problem of global warming and refuse to be part of any potential solutions just because they might not benefit our economy.

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