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Anger Erupts Over U.S. Move to Ease Controls on Emissions

March 31, 2001|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BERLIN — The court of world opinion delivered a harsh verdict Friday on President Bush's decision to put the U.S. economy ahead of global climate protection. Politicians, environmentalists and commentators accused Bush of arrogance, isolationism and being "just not big enough for his job."

Reactions from Europe to China and Japan ranged from mildly reproving to venomous. However, they all judged as a moral lapse by the world's biggest polluter the decision to withdraw from an agreement reached in Japan that requires the largest industrialized nations to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases. They declared that it would damage U.S. well-being as much as its image.

European leaders had been counting on German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to persuade Bush at a Washington summit Thursday to reconsider his decision to abandon the 1997 Kyoto objectives because of California's energy crisis and the mounting threat of recession.

Schroeder's failure to persuade Bush unleashed outrage among other industrialized nations that remain committed to reducing emissions that many scientists believe contribute to global warming.

The 15-state European Union announced that it will send an emergency delegation to Washington next week to press the White House on the importance of international action to halt global warming.

The United States casts itself as "the unrepentant outlaw," warned Britain's Guardian newspaper. The Tokyo Shimbun denounced the administration for exhibiting "great-power greed."

The French daily Liberation said Americans were fostering "hostile opinions and an explosive diplomatic isolation," as well as a decline in air quality. The Portuguese daily Publico described Bush as acting with "the arrogance of someone who thinks he owns the world."

Some social leaders threatened economic retaliation unless U.S. delegates return to the global climate conference, which next meets in the former German capital, Bonn, in July.

American and European delegates failed to reach agreement on details of the Kyoto accord at the previous session in the Netherlands last year.

Mexico Supports Going Slow on Curbs

Mexico has expressed support for Bush's decision. Like many developing countries, it had argued that the goals for "greenhouse" gas reduction unfairly limited growth in their nations.

"We understand the U.S. position," said Victor Lichtinger, Mexico's environment secretary. "We can't try to go too fast" on reducing emissions, he said, "because that means at some point we have to retreat."

Canada's environment minister, David Anderson, said European rigidity forced Bush to act.

But British Labor lawmaker Alan Simpson said of the U.S. retreat on the Kyoto accord: "It is equivalent to launching a nuclear attack whose missiles will land across the globe over the next 30 years."

"I am calling on environmental and consumer groups to help organize an international boycott of American products," he said. People should have a way of "refusing to buy into environmental destruction."

Greenpeace called the U.S. position "outrageous" and said the president's arguments against the Kyoto standards echo those of the major oil companies that helped finance his bid for the White House.

"Millions of people--in the U.S. as well as in other countries--face the loss of their homes, their jobs and even their lives because of climate change. But this ignorant, shortsighted and selfish politician, long since firmly jammed into the pockets of the oil lobby, couldn't care less," Britain's Friends of the Earth director Charles Secrett fumed.

Many statements seemed designed to shame Americans.

The World Council of Churches described the decision as "a betrayal of their responsibility as global citizens."

Commentaries warned that Washington was playing dangerous games in its position as the world's most powerful country.

"By this blinkered action, Mr. Bush strengthens suspicions that he is just not big enough for his job," the Guardian said in an editorial. "But most appalling of all is the message, taken alongside similarly shortsighted, self-centered actions in the fields of defense and diplomacy, that this Taliban-style act of wanton destruction sends around the world. Instead of leading the community of nations, Bush's America seems increasingly intent on confronting it."

Political leaders expressed their dismay in more polite language. But even U.S. allies like French President Jacques Chirac made clear their alarm at the U.S. decision.

"At a time of global warming and of a disturbing challenge to the Kyoto Protocol, how can we affirm the right to a protected and preserved environment, the right of future generations?" Chirac asked during a speech to the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

China, which is not obliged by the Kyoto goals because it is a developing country, denounced the U.S. decision as "irresponsible." Japan's response showed it was stung by the dismissal of the progress achieved at the climate conference it hosted.

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