01 Sep 2001 Global Warming Policies Could Unfairly Harm Minorities and the Poor, by U.S. Rep. John Peterson (R-PA)
While the world continues to ask if global warming is occurring and, if so, if human beings contribute to it, most Americans have overlooked the effect that complying with the Kyoto Protocol would have on minorities and the poor.
Let’s examine the science surrounding global climate change. Although media reports indicate it is conclusive that man-made global warming is occurring, quite the contrary is true. Computer models say the first area to warm owing to the air’s increased CO2 content should be the lower atmosphere. However, NASA satellite data have shown no warming here. Many scientists, such as Dr. Sallie Baliunas, astrophysicist with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and Professor of Meteorology Richard Lindzen at MIT believe that natural conditions may explain the climate change we do experience.
But for the sake of argument, let’s examine what would happen if we conclude that the earth’s atmosphere is warming due to man-made emissions and if the U.S. agreed to comply with the Kyoto Protocol as originally agreed upon and signed by then-Vice President Gore. Under the Protocol the U.S. would have to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from present day levels. Accomplishing this would have an enormous impact on the American economy and industry. Studies estimate that doing so would have cost between 1.5 and 3.2 million jobs in the U.S. Because minorities are often the last hired and first fired, the burden would fall more sharply on black and Hispanic communities.
With African-American family income already 36% below the national average and Hispanic family income 39% below the national average, these two groups can ill afford to carry this burden. A study conducted for several African-American and Hispanic business groups, including the National Black Chamber of Commerce, estimates that of the 3.2 million U.S. jobs put at risk by Kyoto, 511,00 would be jobs held by Hispanics and 864,000 by African-Americans.
In addition, the U. S. Department of Energy has predicted that the emission standards required by the Kyoto Protocol would increase energy costs. DOE estimates that the cost per gallon of gasoline would increase by 66 cents, the cost of electricity by 86 percent and home heating fuel oil by 76 percent.
What does this mean to the average minority family? With higher energy costs and many parents out of work, fewer minorities would be able to afford health insurance, buy a home, save for retirement or send a child to college.
The ratification of this treaty would, approximately, cost each U.S. household an additional $1,740 in energy costs per year. This is a far greater percentage of the income of poor families and would hurt them disproportionately.
Owing to Kyoto’s hit on the economy, state and local tax revenues would fall. Because of Kyoto-caused job losses, more families would be on unemployment. Meanwhile, jobs would flee to countries exempt from the same requirements the U.S. would face if it ratified the Kyoto Protocol.
While the severity of the economic burdens of Kyoto may be difficult to quantify exactly, it is not difficult to predict the certain and staggering social costs to poor and struggling families, communities, schools and churches.
As we Americans struggle with how to deal with important global issues, we must consider how various policies will affect minority and poor families. When it comes to Kyoto, too few have considered this important question. I applaud President Bush for rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, because on a moral basis I believe it would impose needless and severe economic and social harm on all Americans, especially minorities and the poor.
(U.S. Represenative John Peterson (R-PA) is on the advisory board of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a non-partisan Washington, DC think tank afficiated with the African-American leadership coalition Project 21. Comments can be sent to [email protected].)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.