Saturday, June 27, 2009

Monbiot - America's "Breakthrough" Climate Bill Is Greenwash

Although heralded in the mainstream media as a genuine breakthrough for America in tackling climate change and energy consumption, The Guardian's enviro-critic, George Monbiot, sees America's new climate change bill as a lot of form and very little substance:

It would be laughable anywhere else. But, so everyone says, the Waxman-Markey bill which is likely to be passed in Congress today or tomorrow, is the best we can expect – from America.

The cuts it proposes are
much lower than those being pursued in the UK or in most other developed nations. Like the UK's climate change act (pdf) the US bill calls for an 80% cut by 2050, but in this case the baseline is 2005, not 1990. Between 1990 and 2005, US carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels rose from 5.8 to 7bn tonnes.

The cut proposed by 2020 is just 17%, which means that most of the reduction will take place towards the end of the period. What this means is much greater
cumulative emissions, which is the only measure that counts. Worse still, it is riddled with so many loopholes and concessions that the bill's measures might not offset the emissions from the paper it's printed on. You can judge the effectiveness of a US bill by its length: the shorter it is, the more potent it will be. This one is some 1,200 pages long, which is what happens when lobbyists have been at work.

There are mind-boggling concessions to the biofuels industry, including a promise not to investigate its wider environmental impacts. There's a provision to allow industry to use 2bn tonnes of carbon offsets a year, which include highly unstable carbon sinks like crop residues left in the soil (another concession won by the powerful farm lobby). These offsets are so generous that if all of them are used, US industry will have to make no carbon cuts at all until 2026.

In one respect the bill actually waters down current legislation, by preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating coal-burning power stations. If the new coal plants planned in the US are built, it's hard to see how even the feeble targets in this bill can be met, let alone any targets proposed by the science.

But Monbiot also notes, ruefully, that the very subject of climate change has now become so thoroughly propagandized by the far right that any progress at all is a true accomplishment:

Thanks to the lobbying work of the coal and oil companies, and the vast army of thinktanks, PR consultants and astroturfers they have sponsored, thanks too to the domination of the airwaves by loony right shock jocks, the debate over issues like this has become so mad that any progress at all is little short of a miracle. The ranking Republican on the House energy and commerce committee is Joe Barton, the man who in 2005 launched a congressional investigation of three US scientists whose work reveals the historical pattern of climate change. Like those of many of his peers, his political career is kept on life support by the fossil fuel and electricity companies. He returns the favour by vociferously denying that manmade climate change exists.

A combination of corporate money and an unregulated corporate media keeps America in the dark ages. This bill is the best we're going to get for now because the corruption of public life in the United States has not been addressed. Whether he is seeking environmental reforms, health reforms or any other improvement in the life of the American people, this is Obama's real challenge.


Fish said...

Well, at least they're finally moving in the right direction. NOw if nly we convince them that all of the cool countries are into kicking climate change's ass!

LeDaro said...

Good to see you back, MoS.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hello LD. Hello Fish. Good to hear from you guys.

I wish it was all as simple as you suggest, Fish. Unfortunately I've long been convinced of what Monbiot has noted - that American politics is afflicted with a fatal measure of systemic corruption where members of Congress are bought and paid for by lobbyists.

It's easy to overlook that global warming requires a global response in respect of which America stands as gatekeeper. To bring the major emitters aboard, America must lead. God knows there's no political leader in Canada with enough spine to act except within the safety of America's shadow.

By your definition, Fish, Canada - whether under Conservative or Liberal rule - will be anything but a "cool" country. Harper has no inclination to act and Ignatieff sees nothing in it to enhance his personal political fortunes.

It is lamentable that, at this very critical moment, Canada is beset by such mediocre, feckless leadership.

I will be posting on topics that interest me but I'll steer clear of Liberal politics. I'm troubled that such an overwhelming majority of Liberal bloggers are content to scrutinize the failings of the Conservatives while ignoring the structural lack of liberalism within their own party. Sad really.

Toronto real estate agent said...


Julie from Toronto. I would just like to add that the real cuts will in fact start in 2026 - thats 17 years AFTER the bill takes effect (more info here So is it really worth it?

Take care,

The Mound of Sound said...

Imagine how politics can change between now and 2026. This plan, meagre and imperfect as it is, could well be in the dumpster long before then.

The tragedy, Julie, is that we're watching these shenanigans playing out in the one country that can - and must - lead all other nations if there's to be any hope of addressing anthropogenic global warming in time.

I'm with Gwynne Dyer at this point. We're heading to global war.

Scruffy Dan said...

Despite all of its flaws this bill means that the US wont show up to future climate negotiations empty handed, and that counts for a lot.

The Mound of Sound said...

I agree with your point Dan but... the chances of reaching any effective agreement on climate change are extremely remote (a) under carbon-trading schemes and (b) in which each nation can set its own watered-down and loophole-riddled targets. How am I to reconcile my carbon cap legislation with your 1,200 page legislation? 1,200 pages is the stuff of the most highly gamed tax codes. How are we to work out all the associated issues, such as trade? What message does this send to the most vulnerable states in the Third World? We're going to send them a hundred billion a year, every year, so that we can continue to crap in their livingrooms?

Scruffy Dan said...

Fair enough, but I still think we are better off with this climate bill than without it. Though there are plenty of problems with it, and it isn't nearly enough.

KevinG said...

Reading Monbiot always leaves me feeling like I ought to wash down the sleeping pills with bourbon. He's not wrong, he just refuses to give up any of his natural pesimism.

The Mound of Sound said...

I definitely hear that Kevin. Good thing I recoil at the smell of bourbon.