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November 19, 2007
Global Warming Action: A Good Economy Won’t Help You When You’re Dead
What is more important – surviving or winning?
Increasingly, it appears that the White House’s answer to this question
is that it is more concerned with winning than surviving. The most
recent evidence of this came late last week, in response to a United
Nations report that blasted inaction of global warming and warned of
looming climate-related catastrophes.
president’s reaction? A typical “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and raising the
specter of China and India.
This is a fairly standard line – unless we can rein in China’s roaring
economic machine at the same time, we’re not going to do anything about
our own greenhouse gas emissions.
China and India were both left out of the original Kyoto Protocol
treaty, which is one of the reasons the thing got no backing in the U.S.
Senate during the 1990s, but the Chinese have, over the last couple of
years, shifted their position on environmental problems. The biggest
sign of this was the scrapping of a controversial dam project that would
have displaced hundreds of thousands and put at risk important, unique
This was a shift from a previous perspective that environmental problems
just weren’t important.
Don’t think this means that the nation has given itself over to true
green politics, because they continue to rapidly build the kinds of
coal-fired plants that are responsible for the atmosphere’s carbon load.
But they have begun to take voluntary steps toward reducing their
reliance on dirty coal, some of it in response to smog-choked cities
that might hurt the nation’s reputation in next year’s Olympic Games.
While China at least talks about going green, the American president
continues to balk, and proposals to establish basic goals for electrical
generation by clean, renewable sources continue to be bogged down in
Congress, despite bipartisan support for the idea.
Given the potential outcomes of global warming, it’s hard to see any
other motivation than one of economy, and hard to see why that would
matter except as a desire to keep America’s economy the world’s biggest
at a time when China is beginning to nip at our heels.
There is evidence of this in the president’s comments on global warming.
Rather than coming across as a skeptic, he acknowledges that the bulk of
the evidence shows human activity behind global warming, and
acknowledges that it is an important thing. However, when presented with
potential solutions, he dismisses them as either too expensive or
insists that any cost must be likewise carried by China and other
economies that might compete with ours.
pure, raw terms, there is some legitimacy to this. Global warming is a
global problem, and requires contributions by everyone. Unilaterally
going green will not spare the United States from a changed climate.
Harsh realities require strong leadership, however. Someone has to get
out in front, and the rest of the world can charitably expect the United
States, the world’s most powerful nation and self-appointed guardian of
everything good and decent, to do the job.
problem is that American policy on global warming to this date has been
about preserving the economy, not preventing or mitigating environmental
damage that could hurt people. It’s driven by a desire to first and
foremost address the problem without creating economic damage. That this
will eventually push up the economic price tag isn’t lost on everyone,
but it’s not widely acknowledged.
It’s a bit premature to declare that global warming will wipe out
humanity, so the question of survival versus being first in the
worldwide ranking of economies might come off as a tad hyperbolic.
true, because the question of survival is a starting point, a reframing
of how we think. Rather than looking for ways to maintain our primacy in
ways that in the long run don’t matter a great deal, we should be first
and foremost in creating a lifestyle that can be passed down without
also passing down the bill to pay for it.
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