Having been ratified by 140 countries representing 61% of applicable greenhouse gas emissions, the Kyoto Treaty on climate change goes into force today. Regardless of your opinion of the treaty, this is a real milestone, because for the first time in history the cost of emitting carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere will no longer be zero, at least in the countries that ratified Kyoto.
That's a big deal, because unlike the sulfur and nitrogen compounds that we have regulated for the last thirty years or so, CO2 is not a pollutant, but rather the primary byproduct of all combustion. Reducing these emissions will require a lot more that catalytic converters, scrubbers, and cleaner fuels. In order to comply, countries must rethink how they generate and use energy, and this may ultimately usher in the end of hydrocarbon fuels, which have been a key factor in the rapid rise of industry and personal mobility around the world.
Kyoto is either the first small step towards a truly different world, or a major obstacle to economic growth, depending on whether you regard climate change as a serious problem, or even real. Although the US has not ratified the treaty, American companies with global operations will be taking steps to bring their international subsidiaries into compliance. In the process, awareness, knowledge and technology for reducing emissions will creep into this country, bit by bit. Kyoto is now a fact of life.