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May 2001
Vol. 31, No. 5, p 46.

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U.S. cold to global warming

In his December 2000 article (1), Charles W. Schmidt pointed out that three years after the signing of the Kyoto Protocol—the first internationally binding treaty on reducing greenhouse gas emissions—American companies were beginning to accept that global warming was a real concern and were acting accordingly. Schmidt also noted that relatively few countries had ratified the treaty, a step that commits each country to reducing emissions to mandated targets. The United States was one of the nonratifying countries.

Although there is strong support in the United States for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the political climate has turned decidedly cool. The Senate has not yet ratified the treaty, and this past March, President Bush initiated an effort to withdraw the United States’ signature altogether (2). Speaking for the Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christine Todd Whitman said, “We have no interest in implementing that treaty. If there’s a general agreement that we need to be addressing the global climate change issue, [the question is] how do we do it in a way that allows us to make some progress, instead of spending our time committed to something that isn’t going to go.”

Whether there is general agreement that global climate change is an issue that needs to be addressed is itself open to question. The accompanying article by Robert H. Essenhigh is testimony to that, as is a letter in a recent issue of Chemical & Engineering News (3). Both writers argue that no one has demonstrated conclusively that the current period of global warming is due to causes other than natural temperature cycling. Essenhigh’s thesis is that thermal cycling is the cause of fluctuations in the Earth’s carbon dioxide level, not the other way around.

In the same issue, C&EN also published a letter urging readers to voice their concerns on global warming to the president and Congress. In the aftermath of the administration’s recent actions and the Senate’s ongoing inaction, such pleas will undoubtedly be ignored or rejected. Politics aside, it remains to science to determine as conclusively as possible whether the current warming trend was caused by, and therefore can be corrected by, human actions. —Ed.


  1. Schmidt, C. W. Chem. Innov. 2000, 30 (12), 36–40.
  2. Pianin, E. The Washington Post, March 28, 2001, p A1.
  3. Durrell, W. S. Chem. Eng. News 2001, 79 (12), 6.
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