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Weekly Commentary — Climate Change Theatre

2009 December 7
by rahul

It’s always disturbing when one finds oneself agreeing with George Will, but his disparagement in a recent op-ed of the “climate change theater” going on at Copenhagen are right on target.

Barack Obama is talking about a 17% reduction in carbon emissions in the United States (from 2005 levels) by 2020, with an 83% reduction by 2050. So far, the United States has proved itself incapable of even saying in any meaningful way that it will cut carbon emissions — forget any question of actually doing so. Although liberals whined a lot when Bush pulled us out of the Kyoto protocol, the truth is that the Senate never ratified it. Even the pathetic 17% reduction Obama is talking about will only result in a massive barrage of verbiage from the Republicans until it is drowned in nonsense.

And yet we actually talk about how much reduction will be achieved by 2050. That is absurd, in a country where six months ahead is a long-term forecast, but to say that the reduction will be 83% is just insulting to whatever passes for our intelligences. Assuming Will’s numbers are right (and you should never assume this), this will commit us to carbon emissions per capita at the level we had in 1875. Does anyone believe this? Does anyone outside of the radical ecologistic far left even have the courage to talk about what kind of life this would mean?

In truth, as is always the case with claims like this in America, “by 2050” just means “we’re not going to do anything about it now.” And yet on the strength of a couple of cheap numbers, the United States is being hailed for its newly constructive role in climate change politics and Obama will surely be much feted at Copenhagen. It’s just a shame there’s no Nobel Prize for the Environment.

And then there are India and China. They have a valid case for not being treated the same as the countries of the First World. After all, it is the Europeans and their descendants who created the problem, while simultaneously despoiling the Third World (and perhaps even creating it, if you go along with Mike Davis’s thesis in Late Victorian Holocausts). But instead of putting forward an argument in terms of equity, or in terms of the equal right of every individual to the bounties of the earth (per capita emissions even in China are far below those in the United States and still well below those of Europe as well), they have actually attempted to compete with Obama in cynicism.

India says it will reduce its “carbon emissions intensity” by 20% by 2020, and China will reduce it by 40-45%. “Carbon emissions intensity” is a physically and atmospherically meaningless quantity — carbon emissions per dollar of GDP. The environment really doesn’t care how much you say various pieces of paper you produce are worth. Will rightly derides the use of this farcical phrase, although, since he is himself an apotheosis of dishonesty, he doesn’t mention that this is a severe case of “monkey see, monkey do” — the concept of emissions intensity was a creation of the Bush administration intended to prove that the United States was such a good environmental citizen that it didn’t need to do anything.

Although one must admire these countries’ cleverness in using America’s folly against it, institutionalization of this pernicious concept is a serious price to pay.

The Europeans are no better; with few exceptions, the only countries that have met their Kyoto emissions targets are those of the former Soviet bloc, which did it through imposed deindustrialization and social dislocation.

Let us not forget the other half of “climate change theater,” as underscored by Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeak Climate Action Network — Buying your friends carbon offsets for Christmas, talking about voluntary adoption of compact fluorescent light bulbs, and generally trying to make people think that all they have to do to save the environment is to consume different products.

In the last two years, the level of concern with and belief in global warming among the American public has turned around and started heading down. This has to do in part with the resurgence of the far right wing, which has now taken over right-of-center politics, but it also has to do, I think, with the feeling that it’s being taken care of. You don’t even actually have to buy a compact fluorescent light bulb; just knowing you’re supposed to has almost the same effect on individual psychology.

Nonsensical posturing about targets that no one intends to meet and that are likely not even socially or politically possible to meet is actually part of the problem.

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