Our American buddy has gone missing on climate change  

Posted by Big Gav in

Paddy Manning at the SMH has a look at global global warming politics, saying "The US is ruining the planet and Australia is just as culpable. " - Our American buddy has gone missing on climate change.

NO WE can't. This decade was definitely our last chance to stop dangerous climate change, if it wasn't too late already, but when Sarah Palin chirps to Fox News that ''cap and tax'' (her derisory term for a US emissions trading scheme) is ''off the table'', she means it.

Her Big Oil-funded Tea Party movement has ruined the possibility of meaningful global action on climate and when federal opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt crows about that he should be utterly ashamed. Another wet used up, like Philip Ruddock.

True, the writing was on the wall before the US mid-terms - even if you took a glass-half-full approach to the outcome of last year's Copenhagen climate summit.

In July, after the limited Kerry-Lieberman climate bill was voted down in the US Senate, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called 2010, which was shaping up to be the hottest year on record, ''the year in which all hope of action to limit climate change died''.

''It wasn't the science, the scientists, or the economics that killed action on climate change,'' he wrote. ''What was it? The answer is, the usual suspects: greed and cowardice. If you want to understand opposition to climate action, follow the money. The economy as a whole wouldn't be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries - above all, the coal and oil industries - would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines.''

But greed needed the aid of political cowardice, Krugman went on, and he laid most blame at the feet of Republican senator John McCain, a one-time sponsor of cap and trade legislation on climate.

''[McCain] reaffirmed support for such a system during his presidential campaign, and things might look very different now if he had continued to back climate action once his opponent was in the White House. But he didn't - and it's hard to see his switch as anything other than the act of a man willing to sacrifice his principles, and humanity's future, for the sake of a few years added to his political career.

''Alas, Mr McCain wasn't alone; and there will be no climate bill.''

By the end of the year, once the UN climate talks in Mexico are over, the failure will be even more glaring.

If a recalcitrant US can't hit its paltry 17 per cent (on 2005 levels) by 2020 emissions reduction target, it would be all but impossible for the rest of the world to make up the slack, let alone limit warming to 2 degrees. The world's only response would be a climate-driven trade war and God knows where that would lead.

Australia's climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, makes two points: ''First, it is not clear that the loss of control of the Senate by the Obama administration means the end of prospects for meeting Copenhagen commitments. It has been clear for some time that there were no prospects of a cap-and-trade bill surviving both houses of Congress. That has given rise to renewed focus on federal and state regulatory powers, which are being used vigorously. These are much more expensive, but they look like being pushed a long way. This adds to stimulus to low emissions technologies provided by federal expenditure, and to the effects of a sluggish economy on emissions. And the Copenhagen targets are about 2020 not 2012 or 2016.

''Second, the prospects are poor for effective global mitigation if the US does not in the end make a credible effort to meet the Copenhagen targets.''

That's being polite. Reasonable people have been trying to promote a win-win-win outcome. Developing countries get a chance to improve their standard of living by using cheap energy from fossil fuels a while longer. The rich countries responsible for the greatest share of emissions - historically and per capita - transition to cleaner but more expensive energy sources, because they can afford to. The climate we know gets half a chance. On a bullish view, given human ingenuity, it's hard but doable. We understand the problem and we have the solutions. It's not like trying to end poverty, or usher in world peace. It wasn't about the overthrow of democracy or capitalism.

It was a way forward that would hopefully have avoided the untold costs of global warming.

But no, we have seen the US fight tooth and nail so they can continue to pollute at record levels without paying higher domestic energy bills and everybody else can go hang.

This is inexcusable, unforgivable selfishness and it will not be forgotten, especially by the world's poor, including in our region, who will disproportionately bear the consequences.

Australia has been equally culpable, but wants to pretend it's a bit player. As the world's 15th-largest greenhouse gas emitter and the largest coal exporter, we are becoming a target. We had better decide which side our bread's buttered and a strategy of forever lining up with a destructive America seems foolhardy.


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