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S P E C I A L The Global Warming Debate

Global warming debate: Dueling views of the future

cars on the freeway
Modern societies rely heavily on fossil fuels   
December 2, 1997
Web posted at: 11:31 p.m. EST (0431 GMT)

(CNN) -- Negotiators working on a global warming agreement in Kyoto, Japan, this week must reconcile two opposing images: that of a world where reduced fossil fuel use will cause economic chaos and that of a post-industrial utopia created by the same reductions.

Economist Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute holds the former view: He believes the world would be propelled into a global depression if forced to make reductions in fossil fuel emissions.

"These could literally rip the guts out of the whole engine of economic growth," he said.

Smith says more than a million blue-collar jobs in the United States' steel, oil and mining industries would be lost, and that worldwide job loss would be even more daunting. He predicts 90,000 coal miners in Australia alone would be mining the want ads.

vxtreme CNN's Miles O'Brien reports

Environmentalist Chris Flavin of Worldwatch Institute disagrees with Smith's dire assessment.

"I think if we do this in an intelligent way, we are going to end up with more comfortable homes, probably much nicer vehicles, an easier ability to get around where we want to go and probably all at a lower cost," he said.

On Tuesday, the second of 10 scheduled days of talks involving 1,500 delegates from 150 countries, negotiators at the Kyoto summit made slow progress on key issues, and the United States appeared stymied in its efforts to extend new limits on fuel emissions to the Third World.

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"Man can not live with high energy-consumption forever. People have to change the way they live." - Zhen Wu Liao - 09:23am ET Dec 2

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The goal of the summit is to produce a protocol to strengthen the 1992 Climate Change Treaty, in which 34 industrial nations set a voluntary goal of lowering their greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2000. In 1995, as it became clear almost all would fail to do so, they agreed they had to set new, legally binding goals.

Cutbacks could be achieved by phasing out coal-fired power plants, developing more fuel-efficient automobiles and taking other energy-saving steps.

Flavin believes forced reductions in fossil fuels will lead to a new technological revolution. Perhaps the next Henry Ford or Bill Gates will refine solar or wind power technology, or make stoves, computers and refrigerators that consume less energy.

"Railroads -- people were scared of them initially," Flavin says. "No one wanted to invest in what was seen as an expensive technology."

But short-term predictions are troubling. The results of the Kyoto summit could mean paying more for energy: 50 cents more for a gallon of gasoline or 40 percent more in monthly power bills.

"Energy is such a pervasive part of the modern world economy that the types of policies, the 30 or 40 percent reductions in carbon use that are talked about seriously at the Kyoto-style negotiations are civilization destroyers," Smith says.

So what is coming? A post-industrial utopia of clean living and new technologies? Or a great global depression? Perhaps neither, but as the world watches the Kyoto summit, it seems you must choose sides.

Correspondent Miles O'Brien contributed to this report.

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