Monday, June 4, 2007

Bush's Emissions Plan Plan

There is clearly now an opportunity for movement on human-induced global climate change, specifically including reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. One feels the same kind of popular will as during the nuclear freeze movement of twenty years ago. Note that that movement did not in fact succeed in abolishing nuclear weapons. There is never a certainty of success. History is not determined. Still, there is just now enormous political pressure to take action (or to be seen as taking action) on the emissions-control front. In the US, for example, a certain politician who lost a disputed election to the president has come to be the most well-recognized leader on climate change policy in the country, going into an election when the president's party has reason to fear punishment from the voters on perceived (ok, real) failure to progress on environmental issues, among other things.
At first glance, things look a bit grim. The US last week won headlines around the world for rejecting the German host proposal on global warming policy in advance of the next round of talks. The same old brazen Bush rejectionism in the face of world opinion, on the surface. The Chinese, meanwhile, released their own document, predictably but still starkly similar to the US position: China will pursue technological fixes and efficiencies as it can, but the government does not think that it can make good-faith commitments for overall rates of reduction (the "top-down" model of the Kyoto Accords) while it is industrializing and expanding its economy during the present period. The Chinese have discovered the same logic that moves the Bush Administration. The idea is that economic and industrial activity is not evenly distributed and therefore global reduction targets are not rational for the biggest emitters.
I don't agree with that argument as stated, but I do see the process changing. There is a difference between some "top-down" formal imposition of climate change policy at whatever level (from municipal ordinance to global treaty), and the wider "bottom-up" informal social and political shift to an awareness of the problem and the will to do something about it. It may be that the only practical way to get started is for all of the parties to try to figure out what they think that they can, in fact, do at the moment: technically, practically, financially, politically.
Don't get me wrong: I'm all for municipal ordinances and global treaties and everything in between. As for the Bushies, at the very best their intentions are to try to set something up (start a national policy on emissions) that will be in place for the future president who will actually make hard choices about this. At worst the Bushies seek to co-opt those energies to forestall just such a policy for as long as possible. But I see the gears starting to move, the meters starting to read out, in a political climate where it is no longer possible for a regime to simply reject action.

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