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Climate Change

In Brief

Climate change is a secondary issue to both the Bush and Kerry campaigns. While Bush has initiated a variety of programs during his administration, including the Clear Skies Initiative, much criticism has been leveled against his actions, such as his withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol negotiations. Kerry has been a long-time supporter of the Kyoto process, and while he does not support the protocol as currently written, he emphasizes the importance of international co-operation in reducing the risk and potential impact of climate change.

Learn about Global Climate Change.
updated 9/11/04

In Detail

Among Bush's climate-related initiaives over the past four years are sponsorship of a demonstration project to create the world's first coal-based, zero-emissions electricity and hydrogen power plant, tax incentives for renewable energy and energy-efficient technology, and the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative. He has also called for tax incentives for renewable energy and energy-efficient technology, and a FY 2005 budget with nearly $2 billion for the Federal scientific research program on global climate change.1

A frequent criticism of Bush is his withdrawl from the Kyoto Protocol, without submitting it for ratification, and without further negotiation, "because it exempts 80 percent of the world, including major population centers such as China and India, from compliance, and would cause serious harm to the U.S. economy." 2 This, despite his 2000 campaign pledge to uphold it. 3 In its stead, Bush presented the Clear Skies and Global Climate Change initiatives, 4 with a target to reduce greenhouse gas intensity of the U.S. economy by 18 percent by 2012 which is not a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, per se. 5 Additional proposals included $4.4 billion in FY04 for climate change-related initiatives such as climate change science research and renewable energy technology.

While Bush has acknowledged a partial role of humans in climate change, 6 the scientific integrity of Bush's information regarding climate change has been questioned, most notably by the Union of Concerned Scientists 7 and Rep. Waxman (D). 8 John H. Marburger III, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy for the Bush administration has submitted a rebuttal to the UCS report. 9 One particular claim by UCS regarding climate change was that the "Bush administration blatantly tampered with the integrity of scientific analysis at a federal agency when, in June 2003, the White House tried to make a series of changes to the EPA's draft Report on the Environment." Support for this came from a New York Times article and an EPA memo, and while the UCS remark was deemed false by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in its response to congress regarding the UCS report, no rebuttal was submitted against the two sources that substantiated the UCS claim. The Bush administration did not challenge some similar claims of the report.

On August 25, 2004 the Bush administration released a report, citing the "best possible scientific information", attributing warmer temperatures in North America since 1950 to human activity. 10,11 The routine report, summarizing recent scientific findings, singles out carbon dioxide as "the largest single forcing agent of climate change." Asked why the administration changed its position, Bush replied "Ah, did we? I don't think so." He believes scientific gaps remain to be filled. According to John H. Marburger, the report has "no implications for policy." Republicans for Environmental Protection, a long-time critic of the Bush Administration, called for "ambitious policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions", in reponse.12

In contrast, Bush considered an EPA report, that global warming is controllable and should be halted, as meaningless and "put out by the bureaucracy." 3

The Democratic platform considers climate change a great, international challenge that requires strong US leadership. 13 Prior to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Kerry often repeated this position. 14 Ratification of Kyoto is no longer a plank of the Democratic platform.

In the Senate, Kerry, along with all other US senators, voted in 1997 for the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, which called for renegotiation of the Kyoto Protocol and in 2003 Kerry voted for the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act of 2003 (S.Amdt. 2028 to S.139), which was rejected 43-55. 15 While Edwards did not join the vote on the McCain-Lieberman bill, he supports "American leadership in the world's battle against global warming." 16

Kerry's commitment to climate change and Kyoto have not only been criticised in and of themselves, but it is also charged that he is not as "green" as most people believe, despite his long-running involvment in the Kyoto negotiations.

An example of this relates to the 1997 passage of the Byrd-Hagel Resolution. 17 The Resolution is often portrayed as anti-Kyoto, though it's not that simple. 18 According to Hagel, the non-binding resolution, submitted in the midst of international negotiations, was "intended to change the course of negotiations", 19 not to pull out. The treaty was never submitted to the Senate for ratification, although this vote on the Byrd-Hagel Resolution was used by Bush in 2001 to justify pulling out of negotiations. Bush said,

"The Senate's vote, 95-0, shows that there is a clear consensus that the Kyoto Protocol is an unfair and ineffective means of addressing global climate change concerns." 2

Similarly, Bush's campaign website states that the U.S. Senate rejected the treaty. 1

Kerry's vote for passage of the Byrd-Hagel Resolution recognized the then-present state of negotiations - that the treaty would unfairly and severely burden the US. These were the premises on which the resolution was based. Kerry and Byrd believed that climate change was a clear and present danger. Kerry said,

"But it is clear that one of the chief sponsors of this resolution, Senator Byrd--and you have heard him speak--agrees, and Senator Lieberman and Chafee and others do, that the prospect of human-induced global warming as an accepted thesis with adverse consequences for all is here, and it is real." 19

Kerry sees flaws in the protocol, including the weaker requirements imposed on developing nations, but he wants to reopen negotiations, fix them, and move forward. 20

Asked what Bush is doing about global warming, Michael Catanzaro, the Bush-Cheney '04 Deputy Policy Director on Environment and Energy responded: "Unlike Senator Kerry, President Bush rejects Kyoto-like mandates that destroy jobs and harm the American economy and provide no environmental benefits. Senator Kerry has consistently voted for these types of mandates despite the fact that such mandates will move jobs overseas and harm America's environment in the long-term."21

The Green Party sees climate change as danger to be addressed through innovation and international treaty. 22 Its candidate, Cobb, calls for federal legislature changes, moving tax dollars from oil, coal and nuclear subsidies, and national security to clean and renewable energies and energy conservation. Cobb also supports international collaborative in the innovation. 23

The Constitution Party sees environmental treaties and conventions as affronts to national sovereignty,24 while its candidate, Peroutka, makes no mention of climate change on his campaign website. Neither the Libertarian nor Reform platforms make any mention of climate change. Nor does Badnarik's site. Nader refers to climate change an "immediate crisis", 25 the root cause of which is oil dependence.

  2. The White House
  4. The White House
  5. New Scientist
  6. The White House
  8. U.S. House of Representatives
  9. OSTP
  10. MSNBC News
  11. Washington Post
  12. REP America
  14. League of Conservation Voters
  15. Issue S. 139, U.S. Senate
  17. Issue S.Res. 98, U.S. Senate
  18. eg. "The Senate has already voted not to ratify the treaty.", BBC
  19. Senator Kerry. Expressing Sense of Senate Regarding U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (Senate - July 25, 1997),
  20. Grist Magazine
Additional References:
  1. Global Climate Change, Student Pugwash USA Issue Brief
  2. "The Bush Administration's Approach to Climate Change", 7/30/2004, Science, 305:616-617 (subscription required)
  3. Wikipedia: Climate Change
  4. Wikipedia: Kyoto Protocol