PARIS – G-8 summits are about as spontaneous and exciting as Japanese ritual Kabuki dances. Last week’s summit at a heavily-guarded German Baltic
Resort was no different.
Leaders of the world’s leading industrial nations spent much of their time trying to hammer out agreement on how to deal with global warming.
Who would have thought a few years ago that weather, that most banal of subjects, would become intensely politicized and a subject of furious debate?
The G-8 leaders failed to achieve any meaningful progress, papering over deep differences with the usual post-summit platitudes, empty smiles, and calls for yet more talks.
G-8 nations represent 63% of world economic activity and produce much of the carbon pollution causing global warming. Here in Europe, glaciers are melting and summers increasingly torrid.
Germany’s lackluster chancellor, Angela Merkel, is under heavy voter pressure to achieve long-term targets for reducing greenhouse gases. Global warming has become the European Union’s most important political issue. The EU today leads the world in enlightened environmental policies and effective emission controls.
Enter President George W. Bush, who, until lately dismissed scientist’s warnings of global warming as voodoo science from `tree huggers.’ But faced by fast growing concern of American voters over global warming, Bush and fellow Republicans had to do something.
So Bush offered a nebulous plan designed to placate voters by urging more studies and talks. His real agenda was to stave off the original Kyoto accords designed to sharply reduce global carbon emissions and delay any painful actions until well after the next round of US elections.
Speaking of US domestic politics, the White House’s major fracas with Moscow over Bush’s plan to implant anti-missile defenses in Central Europe against non-existent Iranian missiles provided a handy pick-me-up for sagging Republican fortunes.
Conjuring up Cold War rivalries with Russia is a dandy way to divert Americans from Bush’s debacle in Iraq, and rekindle patriotic support from Republicans. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, reacted to Bush’s anti-missile plan with predictable fury and saber-rattling, thrilling all those nostalgic Americans and Russians who miss the Cold War.
But then the clever Putin wrong-footed Bush by proposing the US and Russia share a Soviet-era ABM radar site in the mountains of Azerbaijan. The US delegation glumly returned home, mumbling about needing to study Moscow’s new demarche.
Missiles aside, President Bush was very right about one thing. No environmental accords make sense without inclusion of China and India. And he should have added Indonesia, as well.
China is due to build 240 coal-fired power plants. India refuses to take serious action to control its growing pollution. India is incredibly filthy; its rivers have become open sewers.
Indonesia is now the world’s third largest carbon producer after the US and China. Each spring the criminal burning of its Borneo forests blankets South Asia in a miasma of smog.
`You polluted the atmosphere for the last 150 years during your industrial revolutions,’ Third World emitters scold the developed world, `now it’s our turn.’ Not so.
A mere two and a half centuries ago, people considered it normal to throw their garbage and human waste out the window into the street. Herds of pigs were occasionally brought in to eat the refuse. Cholera, typhoid and a legion of other diseases resulted.
Until recently, most of us thought it proper to dispose of our industrial waste by pumping it into the atmosphere we breathe. In recent years, however, a new, international awareness has developed that dumping filth into the air is as dangerous and uncivilized as throwing feces into the street.
Europeans are furious at the Bush Administration for its persistent efforts to derail plans to curb carbon emissions. But Bush, as usual, is playing to his core Republican supporters.
Vice President Dick Cheney’s hunting pals in Fortune 500 companies bitterly oppose costly emission controls and efforts to save forests and wildlife. Many Conservative Republicans think hunting - the act of slaughtering defenseless animals - and pillaging nature are somehow manly pursuits. They believe efforts to protect the environment are a sinister leftist plot.
Many Bush supporters on America’s loopy Christian Evangelical far right believe the world is about to be destroyed in Armageddon so there’s no need to conserve air, water, trees or anything else.
China, India and Indonesia, rushing headlong to industrialize, couldn’t care less. They refuse to take meaningful action even though their own people are increasingly at risk from pollution.
We understand their desire to industrialize and end poverty. But earth faces an emergency. If the G-8 won’t take effective action, consumers worldwide can. Boycotting products from nations that refuse to stop polluting our air would force them to begin enforcing emission controls and implementing new clean air technology.
Consumers of the world, unite!
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2007.