OUR NEAREST neighbour, the US of A is the number one emitter of the gases that fuel global warming, especially carbon dioxide (CO2). While the U.S. represents only five per cent of the worldâs population, it already produces 25 per cent of the worldâs man-made CO2, the gas considered to be the leading contributor to global warming.

Under President George W. Bush, the U.S. has at the same time led the attempt to scuttle the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the only international treaty on global warming. U.S. attempts to exploit loopholes in the treatyâs targets were the biggest stumbling block at the follow-up climate conference at The Hague last November. In Germany just last month the U.S. delegation declined to participate in negotiations that led to a deal on implementing some of the Protocolâs provisions.

This stance has aroused the ire of European and Asian states, including Americaâs traditional allies. It should arouse ours.

British Environment Minister Michael Meacher said that climate change was ãthe most dangerous and fearful challenge to humanity over the next 100 years. This is not just an environmental issue. We are talking about a transatlantic and global foreign policy issue.ä

French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet said: ãMr. Bushâs unilateral attitude is a scandalä adding that his behaviour was ãentirely provocative and irresponsible.ä

Italyâs Environment Minister Willer Bordon called the U.S. move ãextremely seriousä. He suggested that Europe, Russia and Japan should implement the accord unilaterally if Washington persisted in its current course of renouncing the Kyoto Protocol.

Germanyâs Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and the European Union Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstroem were also diplomatically critical, pointing out that global warming is not some marginal environmental issue that can be ignored or played down.

In essence, the Kyoto treaty requires its cosigners to reduce their emissions of just one of the heat-trapping gases (CO2) to pre-1990 levels. The treaty is actually a rather timid first step in tackling the global warming issue. It does not address gases other than CO2 ÷and there are several; its loopholes are too easy to exploit ÷ ãcarbon credits tradingä and forest plantation ãcarbon sinksä for example; and it does little to encourage Îdevelopingâ nations to lower their CO2 emissions and boost their energy efficiency.

And even if it were fully implemented, the Kyoto proposals on their own would be too little and too late. According to Dr. Mike Hulme of the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University (U.K.), even if humans stopped pumping carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere overnight, the amount of carbon already in the atmosphere will keep it warm for generations. Several hundred years would pass before the worldâs oceans stopped rising.

What is needed is real leadership to have the Kyoto treaty locked into place so the next steps of repair can begin. Yet President Bush has positioned the U.S., not as a beacon for good for the world, but rather as a spoiled brat wallowing in oil

gluttony.

Just for the record, thousands of respectable and independent scientists ÷ that is, those not employed by energy companies with directly conflicting interests ÷ including virtually all of those at the top of their respective fields, believe global warming to be a fact, not a hypothesis. These are inescapable facts:

c The 1990s were the warmest decade and 1998 was the warmest year on record;

c The increase in temperature in the 20th century is likely to have been the largest of any century during the past 1,000 years;

c The last five years may in fact be the warmest in the past 1,000 years according to tree ring records;

c There has been a widespread retreat of mountain glaciers during the 20th century. The icecap atop Mount Kilimanjaro, for example, has decreased in size by 82 per cent since 1912. Twenty years ago the biggest glacier in the Peruvian Andes was retreating by 14 feet a year; now it is shrinking by 99 feet a year.

And, of great importance to Bermuda and the rest of the worldâs islands:

c In June 1998 two uninhabited islands in Kiribati in the Western Pacific were submerged under rising seas. Officials have since planned to permanently relocate whole populations of two nearby islands from their homelands.

In case you havenât noticed, Bermudaâs beaches, especially on the south shore, are already undergoing unusually heavy erosion.

Meanwhile, Americans, whose oils and coal consumption contribute disproportionately to this warming of the globe, are being told a different story.

The Global Climate Coalition, an alliance of car manufacturers and oil companies led by Exxon-Mobil (known as ESSO in Bermuda and Britain), has as its admitted aim to convince the American public that global warming is not ãfactä but a ãtheoryä.

Toward this end, Exxon-Mobil gave $1.2 million, more than any other oil company, toward George Bushâs election. The Bush administration is peppered with retired oil executives who now steer the President and Americaâs energy policy.

President Bush now dutifully recites dubious facts generated by Exxon-Mobilâs anti-global warming PR campaign ÷ including those in a 1998 petition, now proven as bogus, claimed to have been signed by 17,000 ãscientists.ä (Among the ãscientistä signatories were Ginger Spice and the fictional doctors from the TV sitcom M.A.S.H.)

As a consequence, few Americans are aware that in the eyes of most of the rest of the world, their Presidentâs scuttling of the Kyoto Protocol casts the U.S. as top contender for the title as the worldâs number one environmental rogue state.

Unless the U.S. alters course, its energy policy is going to spell disaster for our little island.

We live or die by the climate: corals protect our shores, beaches attract our tourists, our water supply depends on steady rainfall.

All of these are linked to stable weather patterns, which are being disrupted by global warming.

Our survival depends upon the survival of the spirit of the Kyoto Protocols.

If the Americans are really our friends, nowâs the time to show it.

stuarthayward@northrock.bm