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CAN U.S. BE GENEROUS IN CURBING ENERGY USE?

Eskimos will be passing out from heat strokes before most Americans agree to fight global warming by reducing their standards of living.

Many members of the U.S. Senate are making that clear in their hostile reactions to the accord reached in Kyoto, Japan, under which 38 industrial nations would have to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases to something below 1990 levels. The U.S. would have to reduce emissions by 7 percent.

Already we are hearing screams that we Americans are being asked to sign away our good life because to meet our environmental target we would have to:

Virtually wipe out the coal industry.

Drive down farm incomes by some 50 percent.

Devastate our automobile industry, whose vehicles are the main contributors to the climatic disruptions that some say are grave threats to our children and grandchildren.

Drive up the cost of gasoline dramatically and impose restrictions that would wipe out millions of U.S. jobs.

Opponents say there is no climatic problem now or on the horizon that justifies such an assault on U.S. prosperity.

President Clinton, Vice President Gore and others in this administration say all this is scare talk from greed-driven interests. They say that the scientific peril is clearly documented, and some compare those fighting the Kyoto accords with the tobacco interests that maintained for decades that smoking cigarettes was not a health threat.

But some surprising people, such as British Petroleum's chief executive John Browne, are conceding that there is a genuine problem of the deterioration of our atmosphere and urgent steps must be taken to curb global warming.

But the worldwide effort is likely to be hamstrung by those who say that even if the problem is real, Americans can only be asked to sacrifice a trifle to solve it.

President Clinton has already seen that Senate leaders think India, China and Third World countries ought to bear a large share of the burden of reducing emissions of the offending gases even though the Kyoto accord allows India and China to set voluntary targets.

In trying to appease Senate foes of the Kyoto agreement, President Clinton is saying that the Third World must sacrifice. Third World leaders are saying, "Not till we see what sacrifices are made in industrialized nations."

But there seems to be no limit as to how far we Americans will go to protect our standard of living, even when it is based in part on our using the energy supplies of other nations. All our presidents, including Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican George Bush, have made it clear that the U.S. will fight to retain access to Middle East oil.

So we'll be caught in a war of words for at least a couple of years, even as we intensify our research regarding solar energy and other ways to light the lamps of industry and commerce. We can be sure that our personal temperatures are going to rise.

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