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Friday, 15 February, 2002, 15:44 GMT
US scepticism over global warming
American industrial plant
Big business remains unconvinced about climate change
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By Stephen Evans
North America business correspondent
line

President Bush's withdrawal from the Kyoto treaty shortly after his inauguration last year highlighted the very different perception of the effects and causes of global warming in the United States


If you look at what's going to happen to the world as a whole... the benefits are offsetting the damages

Robert Mendelsohn, Yale university
America is a big country, a truism that matters in this context because it means that ordinary Americans do not see or feel the pressure on the environment like people do in crowded countries.

American space seems endless, the sky seems blue and wide. On top of that, US culture is built on using energy.

"I think that Americans realise that for them personally the cost of global warming policies will fall very heavily on them," said Professor Robert Mendelsohn of Yale University, one of the world's leading experts on the environment.

"They're used to a low fuel-cost, a lot of mileage driving, a lot of high-energy uses," he added.

Benefits

But Professor Mendelsohn also calculates that North America, and northern Europe for that matter, will benefit from global warming.

Taxis in NY
Cars are integral to the US way of life

"Well, what we're expecting is that the northern frontier of the United States, the northern half, will be able to expand its agricultural production and become more productive in the slightly warmer setting.

"Even the south will be able to sustain their current levels of production. So that for the country as a whole we're expecting agriculture production to go up and that's going to result in large benefits for consumers."

On top of this scientific view that North Americans may well gain from global warming, American industry is also sceptical - a scepticism voiced long and hard to President Bush.

Big motor companies, for example, do not accept that there is a proven link between burning fuel to drive their products and raising the temperature of the atmosphere.

'No link'

Rick Wagener, the chief executive of General Motors, believes that it is wise to reduce emissions, but argues that the link to global warming is not proven.

Oil well
Oil remains a crucial part of the US economy
"I don't think you can say the data is unequivocally; we have arguments on all sides but we think the data is clear enough that we all, for prudent reasons, need to try to continue to improve," he said.

The big industries believe improvements in technology rather than rules and regulations will deliver cleaner air.

Americans also argue that many outside America cloud the environment issue with fuzzy thinking.

Professor Mendelsohn believes there will be winners and losers from global warming, and it would be better if the international community found some sort of scheme to compensate the countries that lose with money.

'Damages offset'

"If you look at what's going to happen to the world as a whole, there's going to be huge sections of the world which will benefit greatly and other sections of the world which will get damaged," he said.


Whether Americans are right or wrong... what they think and what they do matters

"When you add the two together what you find is that for the world as a whole, the benefits are offsetting the damages.

Americans argue that non-Americans are often smug about the environment, no less glued to car seats than they are, no less reluctant to use heating or air conditioning.

Whether Americans are right or wrong, the country is the great global power, so what they think and what they do matters.

See also:

14 Feb 02 | Americas
Q&A: The US and climate change
14 Feb 02 | Americas
US plans Kyoto alternative
11 Jun 01 | Americas
Bush faces up to Kyoto critics
17 Jul 01 | Americas
Bush firm on Kyoto and missiles
02 Apr 01 | Americas
Bush urged to rethink Kyoto snub
30 Mar 01 | Americas
Kyoto: Why did the US pull out?
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