One Rant at a Time

Whatever heaves into view........better keep its head down.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Blair blows cold on hot air

Tony Blair has always painted himself as a crusader against the growing threat of climate change. Time and time again he's spoken out in favour of decisive action on the environment, championed the Kyoto Protocol despite his favourite uncle George Bush rejecting it, and this year, putting climate change at the top of his agenda for the UK's presidency of the EU and the G8.

But lately it seems as though he's not so sure of his convictions any more. A few weeks back, he took part in a debate in New York and said things that sounded remarkably Bush-like.

There are two distinct camps in the Great Environmental Debate: on the one hand, the entire world, apart from the US and Australia, believes that it would be a good idea if we all found ways to limit our output of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, fluorocarbons and methane). The whole world -- apart from the US and Australia -- signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, which forces industrialised nations to limit their greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other side, the US wants no part of any mandatory limits on greenhouse gas output, because it fears such limits would affect its economic competitiveness and place too much cost at the bottom line of its industry. Instead, the US proposes that we find ways to harness technology to limit harmful emissions.

So, to put it another way, imagine the world is an alcoholic. One doctor says "You have to stop drinking. I'm going to put you on a plan that reduces your alcohol intake as much as possible. Eventually, you'll stop." The other doctor says "Don't worry about it. Just water down your beer and keep on drinking."

Bush's solution to global warming is to keep on polluting, but to strip out the nasty stuff and find a way to deal with it, even though nobody's really found a way to do that. Some people talk of burying carbon dioxide underground or under the sea in depleted oil wells, but nobody's really proved it can work.

The first solution, the one the rest of the world signed up to, is simple: just stop. Polluters have to cut back, or find ways to limit their pollution or they'll get hit where it hurts: in their bank balance. Sure, we're not going to go from 100 to zero overnight, but it's tackling the problem in a pro-active way.

What's sneakily clever about Bush's solution is that it a) allows industry to go on polluting as if nothing's wrong, and b) to find a way to make even more money out of the problem. It allows him to ignore the problem, in fact to deny a problem even exists, while whipping corporate America into another bout of research and development; "Look, fellas! I got another boondoggle for you to work on!"

Tony Blair is now beginning to lean alarmingly towards Bush's position. A few weeks ago he said he wasn't sure the world should sign another Kyoto Protocol (the current one runs out in 2012). In fact, he said, what we might be better off doing is investing in technology to reduce pollution at source, rather than set a limit on emissions in the first place. It's almost if he was channeling Bush!

What's behind this flip-flop? Why has Blair decided the Kyoto Protocol isn't worth following up? All his fine words up in a puff of (environmentally-sound) smoke, it seems.


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