The countries most determined to do nothing about climate change brought the G8 process to an effective standstill in Japan this week - and somehow convinced mainstream media to celebrate the day.
In Canada, the two “national” newspapers posted laudatory headlines, with the Globe and Mail congratulating the government with “Harper Welcomes Bush Back into the Fold,” and the National Post announcing, “G8 Takes Next Step on Climate Change.”
Closer reading shows that the “next step” constitutes setting a 2050 greenhouse-gas-reduction target with no agreed start date and no demand for any signatory to take immediate action. No wonder the United States and Russia were happy to get back “on board.” They get to smile for the international cameras without actually lifting a finger at home.
In fact, the whole conference was little more than a complicated exercise in distraction. Rather than propose any kind of a reasonable policy for Canadian action, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper continued to blame India and China for his refusal to stop runaway Canadian increases in CO2 production. Harper insists that carbon-fat Canadians shouldn't have to rein in their excesses until the impoverished and relatively bone-skinny Asian populations agree to go on a diet.
The G8 leaders also worked hard to deflect attention from their own failings by spending as much time as possible lecturing African leaders for not deposing corrupt Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. This hypocrisy is part of the pattern - it is political sleight of hand in which the world's richest club tries try to make voters look in the other direction in hopes that they won't notice that, on critical global policy problems like climate change and African injustice, G8 leaders have nothing up their sleeves.
Still, the most depressing part of all this is the willingness by so many in the media to parrot government spin rather than criticizing politicians for their intransigence.
For example, Keith Boag, chief political correspondent for CBC TV, told Yomiuri Online that the summit had reinforced things Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been saying about climate change since he took office. Noting that rising oil prices had suddenly got everyone's attention, Boag suggested, “It's now clear for everyone to see why it's so difficult to reach an agreement on climate change.”
(Actually, it hasn't been “so difficult” in Europe or, recently, in Australia. It took only a responsible policy reaction to a pressing global environmental crisis.)
But Boag goes on, as if applying for a job as Stephen Harper's next press aide:
“[The Canadian government] probably feels that the [G8] agreements [on climate change] are not only something that they can support but that they were ahead of, and will not require them to change their own policies,” he said.
In Canada, at least, selfish irresponsibility appears to be a political strategy with real staying power.