Limbaugh distorted and misconstrued Kyoto Protocol

During a rant on the July 19 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, radio host Rush Limbaugh -- who has repeatedly berated “environmentalist wackos” -- mischaracterized the Kyoto Protocol global warming agreement, claiming it “targets us [the United States].”

From the July 19 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: If we say there's global warming and blame humanity for it, who do we actually blame? Who -- who's doing all this inventing? Who's doing all this technological advancement? It's the United States. You can't say, given their theory, that any place in Africa or Central or South America is destroying the environment. They don't have enough air conditioners. They don't have enough cars. They don't have enough factories. No. So what is it? It's an attack on us. It's an attack on our exceptionalism. It's an attack on our abundance, an attack on our prosperity, an attack on our freedom. You look at the Kyoto Protocol, it targets us. We've got to back down. We are blamed for all this.

The Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement aiming to reduce or limit net emissions of certain greenhouse gases, was agreed to in December 1997 by the Clinton administration in Kyoto, Japan. The protocol does not specifically target the United States but, rather, sets specific emissions reduction targets for all signatories. In fact, the protocol's actual articles, which describe the problem of global climate change and the agreement's rules for combating it, do not mention the United States -- or any other country -- by name. The United States is mentioned only on a list showing the “quantified emission limitation or reduction commitment” that each country (those who had signed the agreement by December 1997) had agreed to. A far cry from Limbaugh's claim that the protocol “targets” the United States, the emissions list shows that America's goal (later abandoned) was to reduce emissions to 93 percent of its “base year” (1990) level. That reduction amount is slightly less than that agreed to by most signatories -- including numerous “countries that are undergoing the process of transition to a market economy,” such as Bulgaria, Estonia, Romania, and Slovakia.

After his inauguration in 2001, one of President George W. Bush's first acts in office was to reject the Kyoto Protocol, prompting TIME columnist Tony Karon to write in July 2001 that the decision “may be bad news for U.S. global leadership.” In February 2002, Bush unveiled an alternative plan to the Kyoto Protocol that sought “dramatically lower” emissions reductions and called for “voluntary” reductions. The international community has criticized the United States for pulling out of the Kyoto agreement; other countries have remained committed to the original, more stringent Kyoto standards. (The Russian Federation and Australia had failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol as of July 8, 2004.) A July 6, 2004, editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (free registration required) said it was “disappointing” that the United States isn't leading “the international community in lowering man-made carbon dioxide gas emissions.”