Saturday, February 21, 2009

Kyoto On My Mind

The little town of Yellow Springs, out here in rural Ohio, is a pretty funky place and it is filled with some pretty progressive people. A friend of mine is expanding his small electronics company and doubling the size of his building. The addition is going to be so energy efficient that even with twice the square-footage, his energy bills will remain the same.

He is following some of the super-tight building designs that have been developed in Germany. And as he has worked on this project he has had to buy many of his materials - super-efficient windows, for example - from Canada. It's become a familiar story. Indeed, the Times ran a story today noting that roughly 70% of the wind turbines and solar cells in use in the US today are imported.

And as my Yellow Springs friend pointed out, this situation is the result of our refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocols.

Roughly a decade ago, the world came together to draft this international environmental treaty. The Clinton administration participated in the process and signed the document, but the Senate refused to ratify it. Under the Bush regime, needless to say, the treaty languished entirely.

The press largely covered the treaty's headline goals: targets for emissions reductions, carbon trading and so forth. Those targets were ridiculed for being unrealistic - and they probably are. The Senate and the Bush administration insisted that strict limits on emissions would kill the American economy and cost Americans jobs. Our economy burns fossil fuels, dammit, and putting less carbon in the atmosphere means less economic activity

But what politicians and the press failed to notice was that abiding by the protocols has been a stimulus to new industries, like making solar cells, and the high efficiency, triple-paned, solar-sensitive windows my friend now has to buy from Ottawa. So our refusal to ratify Kyoto resulted in the loss of future jobs. And that future has now arrived. Many of us are ready to embrace alternative energy in our homes and businesses, and at least at the moment, we will have to rely on imported technology to do it.

Over the last ten years, thanks to our inaction on Kyoto, European and Canadian companies have taken the lead in alternative-energy manufucturing while American manufacturers kept adding cup-holders to SUVs. Ten years ago, Americans laughed and sneered at the pie-in-the-sky-ism of Kyoto, but now that Canadian window company is having the last laugh.