The United States is viewed as the biggest carbon criminal in the world community, since it produces about 25 percent of the global emissions with only about 7 percent of the population.
From the 1930s isolationist view of the world - back to Fortress America, standing
alone and preparing to do war (reduction) on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions - the U.S. choice
comes down to "wires" or "tires." By "wires" we refer to the methods by which electricity
is generated. "Tires" refers to the vehicles (commercial and pleasure) that travel our
According to the UN Charter, everyone is born equal, and has inalienable rights to
enjoy modern technological civilization. At the Sixth Conference of Parties (COP 6)
of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Aubrey
Meyer, of the Global Commons Institute, presented his concept, called "Contraction
and Convergence." It follows the Charter in that at some point in the future, each country
would reach a goal of reduced CO2 emissions relative to its population.
In 1997, COP 3 in Kyoto, Japan, produced the most widely known document, the Kyoto
Protocol (signed by Vice President Al Gore but not yet ratified by the
U.S. Senate). The Protocol sets legally binding specific targets for reduction fo GHG emission
in the Annex I nations - developed countries and those with economies in transition -
within specific deadlines.
Some significant features of the Kyoto Protocol:
The developed countries ratifying the protocol commit themselves to reducing their collective
emissions of six key GHGs to at least 5 percent below 1990 levels by the five-year
period 2008-2012. The six GHGs are CO2, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs),
perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).
The reduction requirement for the United States is 7 percent below 1990 levels. Year 2000
U.S. CO2 emissions (about 5.6 X 109
metric tons [t]), for example, were about
15 percent higher than 1990 levels (4.9 X 109
t). Therefore, to meet the Kyoto
Protocol, an annual reduction of 1.1 X 109
t is needed. Physically, this number
is equivalent to emission reductions resulting from removing all of the gasoline-powered
vehicles (cars, SUVs, light trucks, etc) from U.S. roads forever.
In Al Gore's book, Earth in the Balance,
he proposed outlawing the internal
combustion engine (eliminating the "tires" problem) to reduce CO2 emissions. Some people consider
Gore's suggestion to be unrealistic and argue that the U.S. must reduce emissions
by addressing the "wires" component of our pollution challenge.
Current Vice President Dick Cheney suggests increasing our reliance on nuclear power as
one option. Supporters of this position claim that today in the U.S., an estimated 600 million t
of CO2 per year is not
released into the environment because 20 percent of the
nation's electricity is produced by nuclear power plants. This nuclear power-provided "wire
saving" is equivalent to the amount of CO2 generated by one-half of the nation's vehicle
fleet - the "tires."
Pro-nuclear advocates argue that the U.S. can reduce its GHG emissions, without jeopardizing
its standard of living, by implementing a simple national electrical energy policy. One step
is to build more nuclear power plants to replace old coal plants.
This suggestion is controversial as the U.S. environmental movement opposes the continued
use, much less expansion, of nuclear power generation.
While many forms of mitigation (which only further reduce GHG emissions) are welcome, such
as conservation, bicycles, H2 powereed automobiles and wind power, should nuclear power be
a part of the ultimate solution? James Lovelock, the scientist and environmentalist (and
creator of the Gaia Hypothesis), recently stated, "Solar power and windmills are not a
realistic way out. Nuclear energy is the only real and practical solution, but there has
been such a hysterical reaction to it."
We ask readers: should nuclear power be recognized and accepted as a significant player
in GHG emissions reduction? We have provided additional material below to help further
source: Loewen, Eric P. and Sama Bilbao Y Leon, "Implications of recent developments in global climate change policy - a radical suggestion," Nuclear News, April 2000, p.23-25.
The Nuclear Energy Electricity Assurance Act of 2001
U.S. nuclear electricity generation, 1974-2000 (top)
Nuclear capacity utilization, 1974-2000 (bottom)
(source: Nuclear News, April 2000, p.13)
Locations of Nuclear Plant sites in U.S.
(source: Nuclear News, April 2000, p.16)
is intended to position nuclear as as "environmentally-preferable" energy source, according to its sponsor,
Senator Pete Dominichi (R, N.M.), who introduced the legislation on March 7. "We risk our nation's future
prosperity if we lose the nuclear option through inaction," Dominichi said.
The legislation would provide $406 million to increase nuclear energy production, assure economic recognition
for clean air benefits, manage nuclear waste, and improve Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations. Ten
senators cosponsored the bill: Frank Murkowski (R., Alaska), Blache Lincoln (D., Ark.), Mary Landrieu (D.,
La.), Larry Craig (R., Idaho), Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.), Mike Crapo (R., Idaho), Chuck Hagel (R., Neb.), Fred
Thompson (R., Tenn.), George Voinovich (R., Ohio) and Bob Graham (D., Fla.). Dominichi, chairman of the Senate
Budget Committee and Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, is hopeful of passing
the legislation this year.