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How the Kyoto Protocol Was Gored



Seems as though Al Gore’s part-documentary part-campaign flick is reaching quite a few people this summer, environmentalists and skeptics alike. Perhaps the ol’ VP is repenting for some of the dirty deeds he supported during his compliant years in Washington.

One of the more egregious of Gore’s follies, while serving his country, came about in the late-1990s when the Clinton administration was debating whether or not to back the largest international environmental pact in history, the Kyoto Protocol. Mr. Gore, the big “enviro,” despite common belief, was the one most responsible for Clinton’s derailment of the landmark accord.

Seems contradictory, I know. Here’s the most populist environmentalist speaking out about the fact that the Earth is rapidly warming — indeed, pointing out that humans are at least partially to blame. Yet, when he had the power to do something significant at the governmental level, Gore refused to act. In fact, Gore’s culpability in enviro degradation goes well beyond his family’s past ownership in Occidental Petroleum, where they owned over a quarter of a million dollars in the company while Gore sought the presidency in 2000.

It was the winter of 1997 when Vice President Gore, who was in direct control of Clinton’s environmental policies, flew to Japan to address the international delegation about the US position on the Kyoto Protocol. Gore and Clinton had just come off an election victory and it was time to pay back the big oil and gas companies who had handed over $6 million to their party the year before.

Gore warmed up his attentive audience by affirming that Clinton and the US public believed the Earth was in peril and that all global citizens must act swiftly to save it. But in typical Gore doublespeak, he declared the United States would not support the agreement because it did not ask enough of developing nations, even though the US is the leading polluter in the world.

As Gore put it then, “Signing the Protocol, while an important step forward, imposes no obligations on the United States. The Protocol becomes binding only with the advice and consent of the US Senate.”

Gore soon returned to Washington only to reiterate his message that the Clinton administration would not put the Kyoto Protocol before the Senate. “As we have said before, we will not submit the Protocol for ratification without the meaningful participation of key developing countries in efforts to address climate change,” he said.

It was at that moment when Clinton and Gore ruined any chances of the Kyoto Protocol being honestly debated in Washington. Later in November of 1998, Gore “symbolically” signed the accord, likely to appease his environmental pals like the Sierra Club’s Carl Pope, a close friend.
But the Vice President’s tepid gesture couldn’t have carried less weight. The Clinton administration, with Gore’s guidance, refused to allow the Republican controlled Senate to decide on the Kyoto Protocol for themselves. Gore advised Clinton not to send the Protocol to the Senate to be ratified. The blame could have burdened the Republican Party, not the Democrats and the Clinton administration. But instead the buck stopped with Al Gore and Bill Clinton. Predictably, President Bush followed their lead.

And there you have it. It was Mr. Global Warming himself who first tried to kill off the Kyoto Protocol.

JOSHUA FRANK, author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005) edits He can be reached at:



JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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