Sunday, September 18, 2005


The Right is beside itself with joy as Kyoto was administered what could be a fatal blow the other day by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. In a recent speech in New York, Bush's dependable friend spoke with what he described as "brutal honesty" about Kyoto. No country, he declared, is going to cut its growth; other solutions for the problem of climate change and global warming need to be found. Kyoto expires in 2012, and, Blair strongly suggested, it's not likely to be renewed. His own thinking on the subject, he said, has changed.

The media have barely taken this up, which I find a little odd, but things are different in the blogging world. "Kyoto Treaty RIP," gloats one wingnit, his cries of pleasure echoing throughout the blogosphere."Kyoto," declares another, standing aloof in giant ignorance, "is a mix of bad science, runaway bureocracy [sic] and typical spineless euro-politics. If that's the best the enviro-nuts can come up with to save the planet, it's not worth saving." "Kyoto finished," exults Jay Currie. "Yessssss," Kathy Shaidle moans deliriously, and I don't think she’s faking it.

Meanwhile, Blair's hapless deputy, John Prescott, hadn't been let in on the dirty little secret--a week ago he took a good swipe at the Bush administration for not signing Kyoto. If there is indeed a major policy shift in the wind, no one, it seems, bothered to tell him.

Now, the extremists will not take perfect comfort from Blair's words. He did, in fact, acknowledge that there is a problem with climate change, something that the heads-in-dark-holes crowd, Bush among them, is not prepared to admit. He has, however, seemingly wilted under the combined pressure of the corporate lobby and Bush's obduracy.

A note of caution, though: we do need to look at this sans the rightist filter through which it comes to us. Misleadingly, for example, we are informed that China and India "weren’t covered by Kyoto," but both countries have ratified it; China, in fact, was able to reduce its CO2 emissions by 17% in four years, pre-Kyoto (1997-2001).

The Right's position on the continuing destruction of our planet by corporate interests is a classic case of denial. Here it is, in a nutshell: the globe isn't warming, that's just junk science and leftist nonsense. Well, if it is warming, it's not because of human activity. Well, if it is caused by human activity, Kyoto won't be effective. Well, if it is effective, it will cost too much. Let's look for other solutions that are good for business. Or just learn to adapt to climate change, no sweat--the Alfred E. Newman school of environmental science.

I have never seen Kyoto as more than a wake-up call, myself, and so I don't agree that the treaty and environment-saving technological innovations are opposed to each other, the odd binary that seems to constrict right-wing thought on the matter. A mixed strategy is always best. Jay Currie is right that steep oil prices will drive innovation; I'm less inclined to see nuclear power as the answer to our prayers, unless we can progress with fusion. (Nuclear energy is far too dicey a technology to put into the hands of corner-cutting, profit-driven entrepreneurs.)

The basis of the opposition to Kyoto is simply reactionary politics and corporate greed, combined with an unstrategic worldview perhaps summed up best by Jim Morrison: "I'm going to get my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames." The basis of support for Kyoto is not that it alone will reverse global warming, but that it marks a good strategic beginning--not only with respect to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but also as the harbinger of a profound shift in world environmental consciousness. Kyoto, in fact, signals a new seriousness, and the possibility of new paradigms, in which we understand ourselves as an integral part of the environment, rather than its overlords.

These profound changes in the global culture are slow-moving, the more so for being actively opposed by the powerful special interests that continue to call the shots. So one might be pessimistic: Bush's foreign adventures, his domestic incompetence, his crazed bull in the UN china shop, Blair’s pitiful acquiescence (his disagreements with Bush on the latter will be seen as illusory fairly shortly), all pose serious, perhaps catastrophic threats to the world we live in.

But perhaps the greatest strength (although admittedly at times the greatest weakness) of the Left is our optimism. Out of the tragedies of Iraq and New Orleans come new insights into the poverty of traditional, narrow approaches. Massive holes in the ozone layer led to the fairly speedy adoption of the Montreal Protocol. Crises provoke awareness, reflection and, eventually, the collapse of received wisdom and idées reçues. The shrinking global village is becoming more sensitive to danger of all kinds, and ordinary people are growing more and more dissatisfied with the placating noises uttered by leaders who have only their own class interests at heart. They smell eco-suicide in the air, and they're already demonstrating their opposition as a powerful thread in anti-globalist protest. At some point something has to give, and it will. One can only hope that it happens in time.

No comments: