TCS Daily

The World Doesn't Get the Science Right

By Ken Adelman - May 8, 2001 12:00 AM

Friends and allies, especially in Europe, were aghast when President Bush ordered the U.S. to withdraw from the Kyoto global warming treaty, repeating a furor from the early Reagan administration.

Twenty years ago, Jeane Kirkpatrick, as President Reagan's newly appointed U.N. ambassador, and I, as her deputy, had to explain a stunning 118-1 vote against the infant formula code, a popular measure that restricted sales of infant formula overseas. We were the "1."

The ferocity of global (but mainly European) opposition was greater than what Bush just endured. Or maybe it just felt that way, since we were the ones then under attack, and Ronald Reagan was a more polarizing figure.

Nonetheless, a glance back to 1981 justifies Washington's "standing alone" at times, and should comfort the Bush team. We took the heat and were proved right.

Both the infant formula code and the Kyoto Protocol were ideologically driven, led from the liberal wing.

Both were conceived by foes of multinational corporations.

Both gained support by associating with lofty goals: breast-feeding and environmental protection.

Both sought to impose international regulation, presuming that the "world community" could pursue these lofty goals with more purity than politically tainted national governments. Both, unfortunately, rested on faulty, or at least unproven, science.

And both, even more regrettably, diverted top-level time and effort from real problems--Third World infant deaths and balancing energy needs with protection of natural resources.

The infant formula code, launched with such fanfare and causing Americans such embarrassment, proved innocuous at best. Of the 118 countries that voted "yes'--with many more joining since 1981--only 20 ever implemented the code. So most members of the "world community" never bothered to turn the code into more than a megaphone to spout anti-corporate or anti-American rhetoric.

And that was a blessing. Shortly after the code was passed, the HIV/AIDS crisis began. In the 20 years since, between 1.1 million and 1.7 million children contracted HIV through breast-feeding. All these tragic cases have been in the developing world, most in sub-Saharan Africa.

Studies show that about 15% of babies born of HIV-positive women become infected through breast-feeding. While a pilot study by the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, the UNAIDS agency and the World Health Organization reveals that half of HIV-positive women would choose infant formula for their babies, the code left them with few options.

Just as the science then was dubious in encouraging women to breast-feed when their health or other factors meant formula was better for their babies, so the science on the Kyoto Protocol is questionable.

Top scientists, including those at the National Academy of Sciences, doubt whether the evidence of global warming is conclusive enough to justify action today, especially when it clearly would bring economic harm.

While the United States leads the world in consuming energy, for the past 30 years we've discouraged the creation of new energy sources. Having repressed memories of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries oil shocks of the 1970s, we've been content to depend on foreign countries for more than half our oil consumption.

At best, we've had a de facto energy policy that discourages exploration of domestic oil sites or building new electric power generating plants. That policy has come home to roost with drastic results in California.

Instead of using our ingenuity to develop new energy sources, we've succumbed to the same international regulators who brought the world the infant formula code 20 years ago. Since then, the U.S. has become the world's sole superpower. With this title goes responsibility to help global stability, which is impossible without energy security.

No country with a $10-trillion economy like ours can keep that economy expanding without an expansive energy policy.

Fortunately, the Bush administration is forging a badly needed national energy policy based on developing more domestic energy, not telling Americans to use less or allowing the "world community" to regulate our economy.


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