The news today on the climate front is a pretty big honkin’ deal: President Obama, on a visit to China, signed an agreement with China calling for the United States to offer a proposal for near-term cuts in greenhouse gases. In return, China will say what it plans to do about not frying the planet to kingdom come.
(I know: It doesn’t sound earth-shattering. But it’s a big enough deal that it’s currently topping Google News. You have to realize that China and America are No. 1 and No. 2 in the list of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.)
If you want more on today’s developments, I recommend Jake Schmidt’s piece over at grist.org.
But here at Dateline Earth, I can’t help but ask: Why didn’t the Clinton-Gore administration convince China to show such good faith? At the time of the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, even some members of the U.S. delegation to the climate talks knew that selling the deal to the U.S. Senate meant convincing senators it would spawn expanding alternative-energy industry that would make money for Americans. (At least in part by selling the stuff to China.)
Yes, the global political and economic scene was different then. But it seems the idea that Americans might benefit to some degree had to be sold. And then an R&D rampup had to happen. But it wasn’t. And it didn’t.
In fact, I may actually get to ask Al Gore about this, courtesy of the good folks at KUOW, the public radio news-and-information station. Gore, the leader of the American delegation to the 1997 Kyoto talks, is appearing from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday on The Conversation with Ross Reynolds. (It’s at 94.9* FM if you’re here in Rain City. Otherwise, it’s unsurprisingly at www.kuow.org.)
Reynolds and Conversation producer Dave Hyde will get to decide which (if any) of my questions to use. I’ll lay them out below.
But first, let’s take a detour back to one of the most-read Dateline Earth posts of recent weeks, the one where I knocked down arguments that the Society of Environmental Journalists supposedly censored a journo trying to question Gore.
The incident at SEJ’s recent conference in Wisconsin got a lot of (hot) air expelled in the blogosphere. In my post, I attempted to show how the questioner, filmmaker Phelam McAleer, could have been more effective in questioning Gore at the conference in Madison.
Some readers of that post attempted to draw me into a debate about whether humans are affecting the climate, which I of course refused to enter into. What a waste of time! (For reasons explained in the McAleer post.)
No, that post was about how to practice journalism. And today, I’m trying to show that journalists who are worth their salt will try to question political and civic leaders on all sides of a political controversy with equal vigor.
Now, my leaving pre-recorded questions on a radio station’s call-in line isn’t exactly the same as someone like McAleer facing a speaker at a conference plenary. But these are the kinds of questions that I think would have been effective for McAleer and others attempting to question Gore that day in Madison:
1) Mr. Gore, you led the American delegation to the international meeting that produced the Kyoto Protocol, which called for reductions in greenhouse gases. Even as the American delegation signed off on that treaty, members of the delegation and others predicted that selling that treaty to the U.S. Senate would require the Clinton-Gore administration to convince senators that America would make money on the clean-energy innovations the treaty would spawn. What went wrong in making that case to the Senate, which ultimately voted 95-0 against the treaty?
2) Until recently, there was a long period in which you were very nearly inaccessible to journalists who wanted to question you. Why?
3) You were questioned at a recent conference of journalists about a British judge’s ruling that found your movie An Inconvenient Truth contained nine significant errors. The ruling called the film “political” and said errors occurred “in the context of alarmism and exaggeration in support of (your) political thesis.” Will you be correcting the errors?
(I should interrupt my questioning to interject: In Madison, Gore noted that the judge had allowed the movie to be shown to schoolchildren, suggesting that his side had won the court case. Then he went on to … well, just go see the video. You’ll see he weaseled out of answering the question. Which is why we have this follow-up):
4) Why have you previously refused to discuss or even acknowledge the errors noted by the British court?
5) Polls recently have shown increases in the number of Americans who don’t think climate change is a problem, and those who don’t think it’s a serious problem. Could you be partly at fault? What do you say about the criticism that by becoming such a lightning rod for criticism from the industries that seek to downplay the threat of climate change, you may be doing more harm than good for your cause?
(Hat tip for the idea for the final question to Tim Wheeler of the Baltimore Sun, my valued colleague on the board of directors of SEJ.)
Update 4:26 p.m.: I don’t know the ins and outs of it, but it seems like U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell deserves some credit because she has worked for some time now to make nice with the Chinese on the energy and climate change front.
* This post originally carried the frequency of another public radio station in Seattle. Yeesh. Mea culpa.
— Robert McClure