Bush’s fifth stage of denial


It turns out the familiar list of arguments against doing anything about climate change …

  1. It’s not happening;
  2. It’s happening but it’s not our fault;
  3. It’s happening and it is our fault but there’s nothing we can do about it;
  4. It’s happening and it is our fault and there are things we can do about it but we shouldn’t;

Has a fifth entry:

  • It is happening and it is our fault and we can do something about it and we should do something about it, but not very much.

I’ve been generous to President George W. Bush on the climate file lately, noting how far he’d come in at least acknowledging that the world has a problem we should do something about, and recognizing the reality that any “solution” that doesn’t include India and China, among other nations exempted from significant action by the Kyoto Protocol, isn’t likely to do much other than shift more economic power to them while having negligible effect on greenhouse-gas emissions.

But I can’t read the president’s performance at the U.S.-called climate-change meeting this week as anything other than what the hard-core environmentalists say it was: a sophisticated effort to hijack climate-change talks in advance of the next round of post-Kyoto negotiations.

This excerpt from his speech on Friday is typical:

No one country has all the answers, including mine. The best way to tackle this problem is to think creatively and to learn from other’s experiences and to come together on a way to achieve the objectives we share. Together, our nations will pave the way for a new international approach on greenhouse gas emissions.

This new approach must involve all the world’s largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions, including developed and developing nations. We will set a long-term goal for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. By setting this goal, we acknowledge there is a problem. And by setting this goal, we commit ourselves to doing something about it.

By next summer, we will convene a meeting of heads of state to finalize the goal and other elements of this approach, including a strong and transparent system for measuring our progress toward meeting the goal we set. This will require concerted effort by all our nations. Only by doing the necessary work this year will it be possible to reach a global consensus at the U.N. in 2009.

Each nation will design its own separate strategies for making progress toward achieving this long-term goal. These strategies will reflect each country’s different energy resources, different stages of development, and different economic needs.

All of which is fine and, as far as it goes, sensible policy. It makes no sense for the UN, or whoever, to dictate exactly what each country must do to cut its emissions. But then, the UN has never done so and likely never would — even under Kyoto, it’s always been up to individual countries to choose their own policies. The only requirement was that those policies get them to whatever emissions targets they signed up for.

But the Bush the administration opposes mandatory targets. Which means it opposes, in practice, any action at all.

I’m deeply sympathetic to the idea that each nation needs to find its own solutions, and to Bush’s stated position that “a variety of market mechanisms [can] create incentives for companies and consumers to invest in new low-emission energy sources.” Markets require scarcity to work, though — a scarcity of money and labour and resources are what drive companies and individuals to be more efficient, so as to maximize the resources they have access to.

In the case of averting the worst of climate change, what needs to be scarce is the right to emit. Somehow, that has to be limited, and that requires governments that treat emissions targets as if they’re “hard,” with punishments for not meeting them. Bush is arguing that no scarcity is necessary, and that market mechanisms will work anyway.

Won’t work. Can’t work. Waste of time.


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