[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[October 22, 1997]
[Pages 1408-1412]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at the National Geographic Society
October 22, 1997

    Thank you very much, Mr. Murphy, Mr. Vice President, all of you who 
are here. I thank especially the Members of Congress who are here, the 
leaders of labor and business who are here, all the members of the 
administration, and especially the White House staff members that the 
Vice President mentioned and the Secretary of Energy, the Administrator 
of EPA, and the others who have helped us to come to this moment.
    On the way in here, we were met by the leaders of the National 
Geographic, and I complimented them on their recent two-part series on 
the Roman Empire. It's a fascinating story of how the Empire rose, how 
it sustained itself for hundreds of years, why it fell, and speculations 
on what, if any, relevance it might have to the United States and, 
indeed, the West. And one of the gentlemen said, ``Well, you know, we 
got a lot of interesting comments on that, including a letter 
referencing a statue we had of the bust of Emperor Vespasian. And one of 
our readers said, `Why in the world did you put a statue of Gene Hackman 
in a piece on the Roman Empire?' '' [Laughter]
    And I say that basically to say, in some senses, the more things 
change, the more they remain the same. [Laughter] For what sustains any 
civilization, and now what will sustain all of our civilizations, is the 
constant effort at renewal, the ability to avoid denial, and to proceed 
into the future in a way that is realistic and humane but resolute.
    Six years ago tomorrow, not long after I started running for 
President, I went back to my alma mater at Georgetown and began a series 
of three speeches outlining my vision for America in the 21st century: 
How we could keep the American dream alive for all of our people; how we 
could maintain America's leadership for peace and freedom and 
prosperity; and how we could come together, across the lines that divide 
us, as one America.
    And together, we've made a lot of progress in the last nearly 5 
years now that the Vice President and I have been privileged to work at 
this task. At the threshold of a new century, our economy is thriving, 
our social fabric is mending, we've helped to lead the world toward 
greater peace and cooperation.
    I think this has happened, in no small measure, in part, because we 
had a different philosophy about the role of Government. Today, it is 
smaller and more focused and more oriented toward giving people the 
tools and the conditions they need to solve their own problems and 
toward working in partnership with our citizens. More important, I 
believe it's happened because we made tough choices but not false 
    On the economy, we made the choice to balance the budget and to 
invest in our people

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and our future. On crime, we made the choice to be tough and smart about 
prevention and changing the conditions in which crime occurs. On 
welfare, we made the choice to require work but also to support the 
children of people who have been on welfare. On families, we made the 
choice to help parents find more and better jobs and to have the 
necessary time and resources for their children. And on the environment, 
we made the choice to clean our air, water, and land, to improve our 
food supply and to grow the economy.
    This kind of commonsense approach, rooted in our most basic values 
and our enduring optimism about the capacity of free people to meet the 
challenges of every age, must be brought to bear on the work that 
remains to pave the way for our people and for the world toward a new 
century and a new millennium.
    Today, we have a clear responsibility and a golden opportunity to 
conquer one of the most important challenges of the 21st century, the 
challenge of climate change, with an environmentally sound and 
economically strong strategy to achieve meaningful reductions in 
greenhouse gases in the United States and throughout the industrialized 
and the developing world. It is a strategy that, if properly 
implemented, will create a wealth of new opportunities for entrepreneurs 
at home, uphold our leadership abroad, and harness the power of free 
markets to free our planet from an unacceptable risk. This strategy is 
consistent with our commitment to reject false choices. America can 
stand up for our national interest and stand up for the common interests 
of the international community. America can build on prosperity today 
and ensure a healthy planet for our children tomorrow.
    In so many ways the problem of climate change reflects the new 
realities of the new century. Many previous threats could be met within 
our own borders, but global warming requires an international solution. 
Many previous threats came from single enemies, but global warming 
derives from millions of sources. Many previous threats posed clear and 
present danger; global warming is far more subtle, warning us not with 
roaring tanks or burning rivers but with invisible gases, slow changes 
in our surroundings, increasingly severe climatic disruptions that, 
thank God, have not yet hit home for most Americans. But make no 
mistake, the problem is real. And if we do not change our course now, 
the consequences sooner or later will be destructive for America and for 
the world.
    The vast majority of the world's climate scientists have concluded 
that if the countries of the world do not work together to cut the 
emission of greenhouse gases, then temperatures will rise and will 
disrupt the climate. In fact, most scientists say the process has 
already begun. Disruptive weather events are increasing. Disease-bearing 
insects are moving to areas that used to be too cold for them. Average 
temperatures are rising. Glacial formations are receding.
    Scientists don't yet know what the precise consequences will be. But 
we do know enough now to know that the industrial age has dramatically 
increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, where they take a century 
or more to dissipate, and that the process must be slowed, then stopped, 
then reduced if we want to continue our economic progress and preserve 
the quality of life in the United States and throughout our planet. We 
know what we have to do.
    Greenhouse gas emissions are caused mostly by the inefficient 
burning of coal or oil for energy. Roughly a third of these emissions 
come from industry, a third from transportation, a third from 
residential and commercial buildings. In each case, the conversion of 
fuel to energy use is extremely inefficient and could be made much 
cleaner with existing technologies or those already on the horizon, in 
ways that will not weaken the economy but in fact will add to our 
strength in new businesses and new jobs. If we do this properly, we will 
not jeopardize our prosperity, we will increase it.
    With that principle in mind, I'm announcing the instruction I'm 
giving to our negotiators as they pursue a realistic and effective 
international climate change treaty. And I'm announcing a far-reaching 
proposal that provides flexible market-based and cost-effective ways to 
achieve meaningful reductions here in America. I want to emphasize that 
we cannot wait until the treaty is negotiated and ratified to act. The 
United States has less than 5 percent of the world's people, enjoys 22 
percent of the world's wealth, but emits more than 25 percent of the 
world's greenhouse gases. We must begin now to take out our insurance 
policy on the future.
    In the international climate negotiations, the United States will 
pursue a comprehensive framework that includes three elements, which, 
taken together, will enable us to build a strong and robust global 
agreement. First, the United

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States proposes at Kyoto that we commit to the binding and realistic 
target of returning to emissions of 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. 
And we should not stop there. We should commit to reduce emissions below 
1990 levels in the 5-year period thereafter, and we must work toward 
further reductions in the years ahead.
    The industrialized nations tried to reduce emissions to 1990 levels 
once before with a voluntary approach, but regrettably, most of us, 
including especially the United States, fell short. We must find new 
resolve to achieve these reductions, and to do that we simply must 
commit to binding limits.
    Second, we will embrace flexible mechanisms for meeting these 
limits. We propose an innovative joint implementation system that allows 
a firm in one country to invest in a project that reduces emissions in 
another country and receive credit for those reductions at home. And we 
propose an international system of emissions trading. These innovations 
will cut worldwide pollution, keep costs low, and help developing 
countries protect their environment, too, without sacrificing their 
economic growth.
    Third, both industrialized and developing countries must participate 
in meeting the challenge of climate change. The industrialized world 
must lead, but developing countries also must be engaged. The United 
States will not assume binding obligations unless key developing nations 
meaningfully participate in this effort.
    As President Carlos Menem stated forcefully last week when I visited 
him in Argentina, a global problem such as climate change requires a 
global answer. If the entire industrialized world reduces emissions over 
the next several decades but emissions from the developing world 
continue to grow at their current pace, concentrations of greenhouse 
gasses in the atmosphere will continue to climb. Developing countries 
have an opportunity to chart a different energy future consistent with 
their growth potential and their legitimate economic aspirations. What 
Argentina, with dramatic projected economic growth, recognizes is true 
for other countries as well: We can and we must work together on this 
problem in a way that benefits us all.
    Here at home, we must move forward by unleashing the full power of 
free markets and technological innovations to meet the challenge of 
climate change. I propose a sweeping plan to provide incentives and lift 
roadblocks to help our companies and our citizens find new and creative 
ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions:
    First, we must enact tax cuts and make research and development 
investments worth up to $5 billion over the next 5 years, targeted 
incentives to encourage energy efficiency and the use of cleaner energy 
    Second, we must urge companies to take early actions to reduce 
emissions by ensuring that they receive appropriate credit for showing 
the way.
    Third, we must create a market system for reducing emissions 
wherever they can be achieved most inexpensively, here or abroad, a 
system that will draw on our successful experience with acid rain permit 
    Fourth, we must reinvent how the Federal Government, the Nation's 
largest energy consumer, buys and uses energy. Through new technology, 
renewable energy resources, innovative partnerships with private firms, 
and assessments of greenhouse gas emissions from major Federal projects, 
the Federal Government will play an important role in helping our Nation 
to meet its goal. Today, as a downpayment on our million solar roof 
initiative, I commit the Federal Government to have 20,000 systems on 
Federal buildings by 2010.
    Fifth, we must unleash competition in the electricity industry, to 
remove outdated regulations and save Americans billions of dollars. We 
must do it in a way that leads to even greater progress in cleaning our 
air and delivers a significant downpayment in reducing greenhouse gas 
emissions. Today, two-thirds of the energy used to provide electricity 
is squandered in waste heat. We can do much, much better.
    Sixth, we must continue to encourage key industry sectors to prepare 
their own greenhouse gas reduction plans. And we must, along with State 
and local government, remove the barriers to the most energy efficient 
usage possible. There are ways the Federal Government can help industry 
to achieve meaningful reductions voluntarily, and we will redouble our 
efforts to do so.
    This plan is sensible and sound. Since it's a long-term problem 
requiring a long-term solution, it will be phased in over time. But we 
want to get moving now. We will start with our package of strong market 
incentives, tax cuts, and cooperative efforts with industry. We

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want to stimulate early action and encourage leadership. And as we 
reduce our emissions over the next decade with these efforts, we will 
perform regular reviews to see what works best for the environment, the 
economy, and our national security. After we have accumulated a decade 
of experience, a decade of data, a decade of technological innovation, 
we will launch a broad emissions trading initiative to ensure that we 
hit our binding targets. At that time, if there are dislocations caused 
by the changing patterns of energy use in America, we have a moral 
obligation to respond to those to help the workers and the enterprises 
affected, no less than we do today by any change in our economy which 
affects people through no fault of their own.
    This plan plays to our strengths: innovation, creativity, 
entrepreneurship. Our companies already are showing the way by 
developing tremendous environmental technologies and implementing 
commonsense conservation solutions.
    Just yesterday Secretary Pena announced a dramatic breakthrough in 
fuel cell technology, funded by the Department of Energy research, a 
breakthrough that will clear the way toward developing cars that are 
twice as efficient as today's models and reduce pollution by 90 percent. 
The breakthrough was made possible by our pathbreaking partnership with 
the auto industry to create a new generation of vehicles. A different 
design, producing similar results, has been developed by a project 
funded by the Defense Advanced Research Products Agency and the Commerce 
Department's National Institute of Science and Technology.
     The Energy Department discovery is amazing in what it does. Today, 
gasoline is used very inefficiently in internal combustion engines; 
about 80 percent of its energy capacity is lost. The DOE project 
announced yesterday by A.D. Little and Company uses 84 percent of the 
gasoline directly going into the fuel cell. That's increased efficiency 
of more than 4 times traditional engine usage.
    And I might add, from the point of view of all the people that are 
involved in the present system, continuing to use gasoline means that 
you don't have to change any of the distribution systems that are out 
there. It's a very important but by no means the only discovery that's 
been made that points the way toward the future we have to embrace.
    I also want to emphasize, however, that most of the technologies 
available for meeting this goal through market mechanisms are already 
out there; we simply have to take advantage of them. For example, in the 
town of West Branch, Iowa, a science teacher named Hector Ibarra 
challenged his sixth graders to apply their classroom experiments to 
making their school more energy efficient. The class got a $14,000 loan 
from a local bank and put in place easily available solutions. The 
students cut the energy use in their school by 70 percent. Their savings 
were so impressive that the bank decided to upgrade its own energy 
efficiency. [Laughter] Following the lead of these sixth graders--
[laughter]--other major companies in America have shown similar results. 
You have only to look at the proven results achieved by companies like 
Southwire, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Kraft, Interface Carpetmakers, and any 
number of others in every sector of our economy to see what can be done.
    Our industries have produced a large group of efficient new 
refrigerators, computers, washer/dryers, and other appliances that use 
far less energy, save money, and cut pollution. The revolution in 
lighting alone is truly amazing. One compact fluorescent lamp, used by 
one person over its lifetime, can save nearly a ton of carbon dioxide 
emissions from the atmosphere and save the consumer money.
    If over the next 15 years everyone were to buy only those energy-
efficient products marked in stores with EPA's distinctive ``Energy 
Star'' label, we could shrink our energy bills by a total of about $100 
billion over the next 15 years and dramatically cut greenhouse gas 
    Despite these win-win innovations and commitments that are emerging 
literally every day, I know full well that some will criticize our 
targets and timetables as too ambitious. And of course, others will say 
we haven't gone far enough. But before the debate begins in earnest, 
let's remember that over the past generation we've produced tremendous 
environmental progress, including in the area of energy efficiency, at 
far less expense than anyone could have imagined. And in the process, 
whole new industries have been built.
    In the past three decades, while our economy has grown, we have 
raised, not lowered, the standards for the water our children drink. 
While our factories have been expanding, we

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have required them to clean up their toxic waste. While we've had record 
numbers of new homes, our refrigerators save more energy and more money 
for our consumers.
    In 1970, when smog was choking our cities, the Federal Government 
proposed new standards for tailpipe emissions. Many environmental 
leaders claimed the standards would do little to head off catastrophe. 
Industry experts predicted the cost of compliance would devastate the 
industry. It turned out both sides were wrong. Both underestimated the 
ingenuity of the American people. Auto makers comply with today's much 
stricter emissions standards for far less than half the cost predicted, 
and new cars emit on average only 5 percent of the pollutants of the 
cars built in 1970.
    We've seen this pattern over and over and over again. We saw it when 
we joined together in the seventies to restrict the use of the 
carcinogen vinyl chloride. Some in the plastics industry predicted 
massive bankruptcies, but chemists discovered more cost-effective 
substitutes and the industry thrived. We saw this when we phased out 
lead in gasoline. And we see it in our acid rain trading program, now 40 
percent ahead of schedule, at costs less than 50 percent of even the 
most optimistic cost projections. We see it as the chlorofluorocarbons 
are being taken out of the atmosphere at virtually no cost in ways that 
apparently are beginning finally to show some thickening of the ozone 
layer again.
    The lesson here is simple: Environmental initiatives, if sensibly 
designed, flexibly implemented, cost less than expected and provide 
unforeseen economic opportunities. So while we recognize that the 
challenge we take on today is larger than any environmental mission we 
have accepted in the past, climate change can bring us together around 
what America does best: We innovate; we compete; we find solutions to 
problems; and we do it in a way that promotes entrepreneurship and 
strengthens the American economy.
    If we do it right, protecting the climate will yield not costs but 
profits, not burdens but benefits, not sacrifice but a higher standard 
of living. There is a huge body of business evidence now showing that 
energy savings gives better service at lower cost with higher profits. 
We have to tear down barriers to successful markets, and we have to 
create incentives to enter them. I call on American business to lead the 
way, but I call upon government at every level, Federal, State, and 
local, to give business the tools they need to get the job done and also 
to set an example in all our operations.
    And let us remember that the challenge we face today is not simply 
about targets and timetables. It's about our most fundamental values and 
our deepest obligations.
    Later today, I'm going to have the honor of meeting with Ecumenical 
Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox 
Christians, a man who has always stressed the deep obligations inherent 
in God's gift to the natural world. He reminds us that the first part of 
the word ``ecology'' derives from the Greek word for house. In his 
words, in order to change the behavior toward the house we all share, we 
must rediscover spiritual linkages that may have been lost and reassert 
human values. Of course, he is right. It is our solemn obligation to 
move forward with courage and foresight to pass our home on to our 
children and future generations.
    I hope you believe with me that this is just another challenge in 
America's long history, one that we can meet in the way we have met all 
past challenges. I hope that you believe with me that the evidence is 
clear that we can do it in a way that grows the economy, not with denial 
but with a firm and glad embrace of yet another challenge of renewal. We 
should be glad that we are alive today to embrace this challenge, and we 
should do it secure in the knowledge that our children and grandchildren 
will thank us for the endeavor.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:57 p.m. in the Gilbert Grosvenor 
Auditorium. In his remarks, he referred to Reg Murphy, president and 
chief executive officer, National Geographic Society.