Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Best of All Possible Worlds

The recently published article was entitled America values jobs over unproven restrictions. "Restrictions" are those required under the recently implemented Kyoto Protocol, the treaty to deal with global warming. The writers of the article are members of a Washington, D.C. think-tank. Out of curiosity, I located their web site.

The organization's guiding philosophy is letting the free market have its way. The best of all worlds would appear to be one where government plays little or no role and regulations are mostly an impediment to the "genius" of the market place. Right.

Of course, feudalism was at one time the "perfect" solution. After feudalism we discovered the "divine" right of kings--sacred, inviolate--which eventually disappeared in history's ashcan. I think it's time to lift the ashcan cover again.

Like the proverbial war and the generals, global warming ( and environmental degradation ) in the twenty-first century is too important to be left to global capitalism. Most certainly the kind espoused by the leadership in the United States.

Global warming is occurring and has the potential of becoming a very nasty crisis, far more serious than religious fascism and the "war on terrorism." The U.S., the number one emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, by not being a participant in the Kyoto Protocol, has clearly made itself a significant part of the problem.

In the U.S. the assorted opponents of the Kyoto Protocol have had three principal reasons: ( 1 ) it's an environmental hoax, ( 2 ) it would hurt the economy and cost jobs and ( 3 ) it needs more study before we can reach any decision. As well, a fourth reason is now popping up more frequently. Yes ... perhaps global warming is occurring, but after two centuries of industrialization, we can't do much about it now. Best we not build any more condominiums on Florida's coast though. This dysfunctional, cartoon capitalism needs to be confronted.

The science is not in dispute. No, we do not know all the possible causes of global warming. No, we don't know the exact extent of the human contribution to the problem. But that global warming is occurring, and faster than we perhaps once thought, is clear to the vast majority of scientists that study climate change. The chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change ( a group comprised of more than 2,000 scientific and technical experts ) stated recently that "we are risking the ability of the human race to survive."

The noise about global warming being some kind of a trick foisted on the American public is a common theme, often uttered by influential politicians like U.S. Senator James Inhofe--sadly--the chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, and one of the major recipients of campaign contributions from the energy industry. Industrial lobbyists and their various front groups are spending millions of dollars to thwart all serious efforts at dealing with the issue.

And there is the matter of "job loss" that continually comes up whenever someone talks about environmental protection. Much of this is short-sighted, self-serving drivel. In an ideal America government and industry would be working closely together to develop a new energy future; we'd be working out strategies, retraining our workers, and educating our citizens.

In an ideal America we would know it's not an either or situation, environmental or economic priorities. We would be making far more effort in the implementation of existing, clean, energy-efficient technologies. Without a doubt we would hurry up the development of renewable domestic energy sources. Certainly we'd be spending more money in both the public and the private sector in developing new technologies.

Improved energy efficiency standards would be common throughout the country, covering everything from better gas mileage to more efficient power plants. We could even see energy costs going down for both business and the consumer. Finally, we could become less reliant on parts of the world that are unstable and where hatred of America only festers and grows with our presence. During all this time we would be growing a new economy and creating new jobs.

Unfortunately, this is only an ideal America. This is still an America where the fossil fuel industry, not our elected representatives, write out energy policy. This is an America where the automotive companies have joined in a lawsuit against California's global warming law. These automakers want to prevent California from requiring a cut in global warming pollution in all new cars sold in the state, starting in 2009.

The idea that something like the Kyoto Protocol is not worth it because greenhouse gases are already in the atmosphere is a truly shortsighted and stupid rational for essentially not changing behavior.

Carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, stays in the atmosphere a long time. Scientists believe it can linger from 50 years to 100 years. What this means is that even if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, global warming would continue for decades. The important point, however, is that if we do nothing to reduce carbon dioxide, at some point it may be too late--to do anything. As well, we have to deal with other greenhouse gases like methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and carbon monoxide. They all contribute to global warming.

The Kyoto Protocol is merely a first step. Of course countries such as China and India, because of their rapid industrialization, must become part of the Protocol. It is also likely that the basic requirements to cut global warming gases by 5 percent below 1990 levels ( by 2012 ) is nowhere near enough. And the research has to continue.

The United States government, however, has demonstrated colossal irresponsibility. We have shown no leadership or set any worthy example. The most recent example of this took place at the world climate conference in Buenos Aires this past December. No substantive plans could be considered because the U.S. delegation blocked all attempts to come up with even the mildest proposal.

The United States, with approximately 6 percent of the world's population, uses 25 percent of the world's finite oil production. We have arguably the worst fuel efficiency standards among all the so-called "developed" nations, and we have no national energy conservation program. "Voluntary standards" on the part of industry is probably one of the most laughable phrases that the current American government has used. But of course it's the best of all possible worlds.

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