Which Team Would You Choose?

This tart wrap of the UN climate change conference in Montreal comes from David Ridenour, husband of ”conservative” blogger Amy Ridenour and her correspondent at the COP/MOP climate shindig.

In his last post from Montreal, Ridenour wrote:

From the beginning, the official delegations to the U.N.'s Climate Change Conference were divided into two camps. One camp includes the United States, China, India, Japan, Australia and much of the developing world. This camp opposes strict greenhouse gas emissions caps on economic grounds. The other camp includes the hypocrites.”

There you have it:

On one side, the selfish and the desperate, on the other side, the self-important and the smug. So much easier to start a really good fight – and to disrupt any chance of intelligent consensus – when you can call people names.

Especially when the names stick. Ridenour goes on:

Those paying the most lip service to the Kyoto Protocol have been amongst its most flagrant violators. For example, Canada, whose Prime Minister, Paul Martin, lashed out against the United States for failing to support the Kyoto Protocol, has increased its greenhouse gas emissions from the treaty's 1990 baseline by between 22 and 24 percent.”

Ouch, and again ouch.

Never mind. Regardless of the real progress made in Montreal, there is still much opportunity to delay real action, in the U.S. and elsewhere. Ridenour, who was held up leaving Montreal because of bad weather, signs off by noting: ”Incidentally, the French word for delay is retarde.”

Apply that where you will.


For example, Canada, whose Prime Minister, Paul Martin, lashed out against the United States for failing to support the Kyoto Protocol, has increased its greenhouse gas emissions from the treaty’s 1990 baseline by between 22 and 24 percent.

I love how the right is throwing this around yet they never seem to mention the fact that the US greenhouse gas emmissions are growing at a slower pace because they’ve outsourced much of it to Canada.

Mike Watkins has a good post on that subject.

… we (Canadians) are profiting from their consumption. We can argue whether it’s crystal or tempered or shatterproof or whatever, but no matter how you cut it, we’re still living in a glass house. It would be nice, now that Martin has started to say the right thing to see him actually promoting policies that indicate he will also do the right thing.

            Submitted by Ross Gelbspan (Dec. 15, 2005)

            This unimaginative and somewhat blindered argument (put forth by Ridenour) is really not relevant to the larger issue of climate change mitigation.  There is no doubt that the U.K., for instance, is not on a direct path to the 60 percent reductions by 2050called for by Tony Blair – or that Canada has yet to meet its shorter term goal under Kyoto.


            But this in no way invalidates the findings of the world’s community of climate scientists – that climate stabilization requires the world to reduce emissions – globally – by about 70 percent.  Nor does it reveal any hypocrisy among leaders who have set out appropriate goals (e.g., Holland’s pledge to cut emissions by 80 percent in the next 40 years, the aforementioned U.K. goal, Germany’s vow to reduce carbon emissions 50 percent by 2050 or even French President Chirac’s call, earlier this year, for the entire industrial world to cut its use of carbon fuels by 75 percent in the next 45 years). Those goals are entirely consistent with the science.  In fact, a growing number of scientists – who have been blindsided by the unanticipated speed with which the climate is changing over the last five years or so – would say that even those goals are too far into  the future.


            Viewed from the perspective of institutional, rather than climate, change, this much seems clear.

            Industrial countries can meet their old Kyoto goals (about 5.5 percent below 1990 levels by 2010) simply through a range of cost-saving efficiencies and conservation measures. (Unfortunately, those goals have been rendered obsolete by the accelerating rate of change in our natural systems).


            The real challenge – which involves cuts of 60 to 80 percent across the board – can not be done by any country individually (with the possible exception of Iceland, with her natural geothermal base and clean hydrogen potential.) 


            Any nation that truly begins to cut emissions unilaterally by any truly meaningful measure risks committing economic suicide.  Were, say, the U.K. to cut its emissions by 60 percent in the 40 to 50 years, it would put the country at an enormous competitive disadvantage to other industrial countries that barely chipped away at their carbon diets.  The insult of intensified job and economic losses would be compounded by the injury of continuing and increasingly extreme climate impacts – due to the emissions of other countries that had not made similar cuts.


            The dirty little secret behind the scientific consensus is that the rapid switch from coal and oil to non-carbon (and, preferably, non-nuclear) sources of energy can only be done in concert – as a common, global project involving all the countries of the world.  Any other piecemeal method would both fail to pacify the climate – and would, as well, result in competitive disadvantages for the most environmentally conscientious countries.


            People who criticize the sluggish progress of Canada, the U.K., the EU, etc., are speaking from a framework which is largely shaped by a traditional sense of competitive nationalism.

            By contrast, the global climate knows no national boundaries.  It is the carbon-based energy diet of the total species that needs to be rapidly replaced.  And that requires a strong, binding international agreement with immutable timetables and mechanisms which allow all countries to make this transition in lockstep without losing any competitive standing in the process.


            Seen in this context, the arguments about Canada or other individual countries are meaningless (unless, of course, they are actively working to prevent the rest of the world from going forward – as is the United States.)


            When I was a young boy, my father suggested that the countries of the world would make peace only when they were attacked by a hostile force from outer space. Of course, my father knew nothing about climate change back then.  But this tidbit of political wisdom seems particularly timely today.


            The real task, it seems, is not to beat up on Canada, Britain or any other individual government for not meeting its goal.

            The far more important task, I think, is to create the global political environment that brings all the countries of the world together in a common global project – and penalizes those countries that refuse to take part in a mission whose very real goal involves the survival of this civilization.  Nothing short of that will leave us whole.