Global warming debate: Dueling views of the future
December 2, 1997
Modern societies rely heavily on fossil fuels
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.
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
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
"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
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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