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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.


The 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 ecosystems.


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.


In 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.


The 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.


Not 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.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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