Hurray! We’re Going Backwards!

Bush trashed the climate talks, but look what Gore did.

“After eleven days of negotiations, governments have come up with a compromise deal that could … even lead to emission increases. …The highly compromised political deal is largely attributable to the position of the United States which was heavily influenced by fossil fuel and automobile industry interests. The failure to reach agreement led to the talks spilling over into an all night session.”1

These are extracts from a press release by Friends of the Earth. So what? Well it was published on December 11th — I mean to say, December 11th 1997. The US had just put a wrecking ball through the Kyoto Protocol. George W Bush was innocent; he was busy executing prisoners in Texas. Its climate negotiators were led by Albert Arnold Gore.

The European Union had asked for greenhouse gas cuts of 15% by 2010. Gore’s team drove them down to 5.2% by 2012. Then it did something worse: it destroyed the whole agreement.

Most of the other governments insisted that the cuts be made at home. But Gore demanded a series of loopholes big enough to drive a Hummer through. The rich nations, he said, should be allowed to buy their cuts from other countries.2 When he won, the protocol created an exuberant global market in fake emissions cuts. The western nations could buy “hot air” from the former Soviet Union. Because the cuts were made against emissions in 1990, and because industry in that bloc had subsequently collapsed, the FSU countries would pass well below the bar. Gore’s scam allowed them to sell the gases they weren’t producing to other nations. He also insisted that rich nations could buy nominal cuts from poor ones. Factories in India and China have made billions by raising their production of potent greenhouse gases, so that carbon traders in the rich world will pay to clean them up.3

The result of this sabotage is that the market for low carbon technologies has remained moribund. Without an assured high value for carbon cuts, without any certainty that government policies will be sustained, companies have continued to invest in the safe commercial prospects offered by fossil fuels rather than gamble on a market without an obvious floor.

By ensuring that the rich nations would not make real cuts, Gore also guaranteed that the poor ones scoffed when we asked them to do as we don’t. When George Bush announced, in 2001, that he would not ratify the protocol, the world cursed and stamped its feet. But his intransigence affected only the United States. Gore’s team ruined it for everyone.

The destructive power of the US delegation is not the only thing that hasn’t changed. After the Kyoto Protocol was agreed, the British environment secretary, John Prescott, announced that “this is a truly historic deal which will help curb the problems of climate change. For the first time it commits developed countries to make legally binding cuts in their emissions.”4 Ten years later the current environment secretary, Hilary Benn, told us that “this is an historic breakthrough and a huge step forward. For the first time ever all the world’s nations have agreed to negotiate on a deal to tackle dangerous climate change.”5 Do these people have a chip inserted?

In both cases the United States demanded terms which appeared impossible for the other nations to accept. Before Kyoto, the other negotiators flatly rejected Gore’s proposals for emissions trading. So his team threatened to sink the talks. The other nations capitulated, but the US still held out on technicalities until the very last moment, when it suddenly appeared to concede. In 1997 and in 2007 it got the best of both worlds: it wrecked the treaty and was praised for saving it.

Hilary Benn is an idiot. Our diplomats are suckers. US negotiators have pulled the same trick twice and for the second time our governments have fallen for it.

There are still two years to go, but so far the new agreement is even worse than the Kyoto Protocol. It contains no targets and no dates. A new set of guidelines also agreed at Bali extend and strengthen the worst of Al Gore’s trading scams, the clean development mechanism.6 Benn and the other dupes are cheering and waving their hats as the train leaves the station at last, having failed to notice that it is travelling in the wrong direction.

Though Gore does a better job of governing now that he is out of office, he was no George Bush. He wanted a strong, binding and meaningful protocol, but US politics had made it impossible. In July 1997 the Senate had voted 95-0 to sink any treaty which failed to treat developing countries in the same way as it treated the rich ones.7 Though they knew this was impossible for developing countries to accept, all the Democrats lined up with all the Republicans. The Clinton administration had proposed a compromise: instead of binding commitments for the developing nations, Gore would demand emissions trading.8 But even when he succeeded he announced that “we will not submit this agreement for ratification [in the Senate] until key developing nations participate.”9 Clinton could thus avoid an unwinnable war.

So why, regardless of the character of its leaders, does the United States act this way Because, like several other modern democracies, it is subject to two great corrupting forces. I have written before about the role of the corporate media (particularly in the US) in downplaying the threat of climate change and demonizing anyone who tries to address it.10 I won’t bore you with it again, except to remark that at 3pm eastern standard time on Saturday there were 20 news items on the front page of the Fox News website. The climate deal came 20th, after “Bikini-wearing stewardesses sell calendar for charity” and “Florida store sells ‘Santa Hates You’ T-shirt.”11

Let us consider instead the other great source of corruption: campaign finance. The Senate rejects effective action on climate change because its members are bought and bound by the companies which stand to lose. When you study the tables showing who gives what to whom, you are struck by two things.12

One is the quantity. Since 1990, the energy and natural resources sector (mostly coal, oil, gas and electricity) has given $418m to federal politicians in the US.13 Transport companies have given $355m.14 The other is the width: the undiscriminating nature of this munificence. The big polluters favour the Republicans, but most of them also fund Democrats. During the 2000 presidential campaign, oil and gas companies lavished money on George Bush, but they also gave Al Gore $142,00015, while transport companies gave him $347,000.16 The whole US political system is in hock to people who put their profits ahead of the biosphere.

So don’t believe all this nonsense about waiting for the next president to sort it out. This is a much bigger problem than George W Bush. Yes, he is viscerally opposed to tackling climate change. But viscera don’t have much to do with it. Until the American people confront their political funding system, their politicians will keep speaking from the pocket, not the gut.

  1. Friends of the Earth UK, 11th December 1997. Kyoto Deal Will Not Stop Global warming. Press release. []
  2. Through Emissions Trading, Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism. []
  3. See Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, September 2006. Carbon Trading: A Critical Conversation on Climate Change, Privatisation and Power. Development Dialogue 2006, no 48. And: Michael Wara, 8th February 2007. “Is the global carbon market working?” Nature, vol 445. p 595. []
  4. Department of the Environment, Transport & The Regions, 11th December 1997. “Historic Agreement Reached In Kyoto On Climate Change.” Press release 509/Environment. []
  5. No author, 15th December 2007. “Deal agreed in Bali climate talks.” []
  6. United Nations Climate Change Conference, 15th December 2007. Decision -/CMP.3
    Further guidance relating to the clean development mechanism. []
  7. You can read the Byrd-Hagel Resolution here. []
  8. ou can see how these two issues were played against each other in this statement by the Senate Republican Policy Committee. []
  9. CNN, 11th December 2007. “Clinton Hails Global Warming Pact.” []
  10. See in particular George Monbiot, 2007. Heat: how to stop the planet burning. Chapter 2. Penguin, London []
  11. Foxnews.com, viewed at 8.21pm UK time, 15th December 2007. Updated on the hour. []
  12. Open Secrets gives an almost-comprehensive account. []
  13. See here. []
  14. See here. []
  15. See here. []
  16. See here. []
George Monbiot is the author of the best selling books, The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order and Captive State: the Corporate Takeover of Britain; as well as the investigative travel books Poisoned Arrows, Amazon Watershed and No Man’s Land. He writes a weekly column for the Guardian newspaper (UK). Read other articles by George, or visit George's website.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. gerald spezio said on December 18th, 2007 at 9:12am #

    Georgio, there will probably be a terrific market, at least for awhile, for “pharmaceutical death products.”

  2. hp said on December 18th, 2007 at 6:17pm #

    I read recently that Mars is heating up just like the earth, due to an increase in the temperature generated by the SUN.
    I vote we send big Al to Mars and let him tax the Martians.

  3. greybeard said on December 18th, 2007 at 7:27pm #

    The funding issue is crucial, and is reflected in U.S. support of Israel, empire and plutocracy/corporatocracy. But the other “half” of the issue is, whom will we elect if we eliminate money from the equation? Demogogues promising everything, or realists assisting our education as to how to live equitably with the rest of the planet???

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 19th, 2007 at 3:40am #

    In Australia, while the farce in Bali was painted as a triumph, the Rightwing media has continued it habitual climate change denialism. Murdoch may paint himself as ‘green’ in the US, but here his flagship ‘The Australian’ (aka The Fundament) runs never-ending denialist screeds, some so full of long refuted lies (increasing solar radiation, cosmic rays affecting cloud formation, the world has been cooling since 1998 etc) that one is almost touched by the disinformationists’ sentimental attachment to lies that have served them, and their corporate allies and benefactors, so well. More and more, however, the ideological cat is being let out the bag. Increasingly the propagandists, and their loony and more disinhibited supporters in the blogging cretinocracy, decry the supporters of the vast scientific consensus as ‘Leftists’ and ‘enemies of capitalism’. This tendency has been exacerbated here because the Right recently lost its beloved Howard regime, a veritable Camelot of denialist paladins, from the Denier-in-chief John Howard, down through progressively deeper levels of knuckle-dragging stupidity and ignorance. As a result, the Right has hit upon the audacious tactic of ignoring the election result, and attempting to rule from opposition, cranking up their already fevered propaganda attacking indigenous Australians, lauding Bush, the US, Israel, the ‘liberation of Iraq’, and naturally, climate denialism. This is apparently intended to browbeat the new PM, Rudd, into ruling as if he were John Howard, and the nasty election rout just a bad dream. And I do not doubt it has some chance of success, if unhinged fanaticism can sway Rudd to take the ‘dark path’. Climate change denialism is, I believe, the sign of a fundamentalist Rightwing psychopathology. The Right correctly sees environmentalism as inextricably a condemnation of capitalist destructiveness, and hence a quintessentially ‘Left’ issue. That’s enough for it to be savagely attacked. I’m sure simple stupidity and ignorance, which along with personal viciousness and antipathy to others are hallmarks of the Rightist psychology, come into it too. And I believe a darker motivation yet is often at work. I’m certain the Right, at least at the higher levels in power around the world, intend to radically reduce human populations, almost certainly, by preference, through Malthusian methods, as their solution to environmental decay. As well as the upsurge of denialism, there has been a complimentary strain of realism, but with the problem framed in strictly demographic terms, blaming everything on the overpopulation of the poor, and exonerating or ignoring Western over-consumption. With food prices being seemingly deliberately driven inexorably upwards by diversion of grain to ethanol production, the chronic malnourishment of millions will spread, and death by starvation begin to stalk much of the poor world. And I’m sure this will be viewed in certain corridors of power with quiet satisfaction.

  5. Donald Hawkins said on December 19th, 2007 at 7:36am #

    The Old Coffee Shop
    The coffee shop was a buzz the place was full. People laughing talking some even crying. At one table the talk was comparing Socialism to Capitalism good points bad points. Two people over by the window were talking about the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Another table the economy was the subject and the talk was if the world economy went into recession could GM go bankrupt. Two people at one table were crying and a few people were helping them. You see they had just lost there house due to the mortgage meltdown. One group was talking about global warming is it real or just bad science and still another table the subject was is Fox News really fair and balanced. All of a sudden somebody yelled social Camouflage as a red Cadillac pulled up in front. Two people got out and walked to the front door both looked like they had just stepped out of a commercial for a very expensive clothing store. As they walked in like they owned the place you could hear a pin drop. No talk the place was very quiet and all the people were just looking down at the table. Well they walked over to the counter and the man said to the owner what kind of coffee do you have? The owner said just regular sir but you can have it your way. Black cream and sugar or just cream or just sugar. The man then said what kind of a place is this anyway this is the 21st century. The owner said yes sir I know it started January 1, 2001. With that the man said let’s get out of here. I know a little place by the water. As the Cadillac pulled off the place was still quiet. Then an old man in the back broke out into song,
    Well I’ve got a hammer
    And I’ve got a bell
    And I’ve got a song to sing
    All over this land
    Everybody then yelled hurray and they to began to sing,
    Well I’ve got a hammer
    And I’ve got a bell
    And I’ve got a song to sing
    All over this land
    It’s the hammer of justice
    It’s the bell of freedom
    It’s the song about love between my brothers and my sisters
    All over this land
    It was wonderful.

    Don

  6. Donald Hawkins said on December 19th, 2007 at 10:36am #

    Albert Einstein quotes

    “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest”
    “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
    “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”
    Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
    “It’s not that I’m so smart , it’s just that I stay with problems longer .”
    “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”
    “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

  7. hp said on December 19th, 2007 at 1:57pm #

    More Einstein quotes:

    “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.”

    “When I read the Bhagavad- Gita and reflect about how God made this universe everything else seems so superfluous.”

    “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

    “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”

    “Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.”

    “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”

    “Never do anything against conscience, even if the state demands it.”

  8. Donald Hawkins said on December 21st, 2007 at 7:04am #

    TIME

    “The crisis we face demands a profound philosophical discussion, a reappraisal of who we are and what progress means.” Of course what he was referring to is climate change. Kenneth Davidson said the other day, ” The rapidly evolving science on this issue suggests that the scarcest resource humanity has is time.” Is climate change a crisis that demands a profound philosophical discussion, a reappraisal of who we are and what progress means? Oh yes, it sure is and people we are in big trouble. Time is short to slow this problem down so let’s cut to the chase on this profound philosophical discussion. Steven Hawking a rather smart man said on the History Channel a few months back. “I am an optimistic man and if we use reason to overcome are instincts we should be alright.”

    Arctic sea ice receded so much that the fabled Northwest Passage completely opened for the first time in human memory.NSIDC scientists monitor and study Arctic sea ice year round, analyzing satellite data and seeking to understand the regional changes and complex feedbacks that we are seeing. Serreze said, “The sea ice cover is in a downward spiral and may have passed the point of no return. As the years go by, we are losing more and more ice in summer, and growing back less and less ice in winter. We may well see an ice-free Arctic Ocean in summer within our lifetimes.” The scientists agree that this could occur by 2030. Serreze concluded, “The implications for global climate, as well as Arctic animals and people, are disturbing.” the National Snow and Ice Data Center

    Now if my memory servers me right didn’t the Russians just sent a nuclear ice breaker to the North Atlantic and put the flag on the bottom of the ocean, fascinating. The President of The United States from what I understand called Konrad Steffen this summer on a satellite phone. Konrad does assessment of global sea level change and sensitivity studies of large ice sheets. Why did the President call Konrad? Because he is worried about climate change and needs the data to better make policy to fight this little problem? Russians same thing to gather data to better understand climate change? No, to know when they can go up there and get at all that oil, gas and gold. Would you say that is reason or instinct? Probably instinct but more importantly it’s nut’s. The very thing that is causing the problem and will raise sea levels Worldwide and change the climate Worldwide they want to get more. Do you see the beauty in that?

    When the ice melts enough and the oceans rise, heck let’s be nice 3 feet and the East Coast and Gulf Coast big trouble and weather is getting more extreme Worldwide and yes we go to the North and start to drill for oil. What are the people you know Joe public going to say? Wait more importantly what is the government and the media going to say to keep the people calm. Well probably the same thing they tell the people now nothing.

    “So why, regardless of the character of its leaders, does the United States act this way? Because, like several other modern democracies, it is subject to two great corrupting forces. I have written before about the role of the corporate media (particularly in the US) in downplaying the threat of climate change and demonising anyone who tries to address it(10). I won’t bore you with it again, except to remark that at 3pm eastern standard time on Saturday there were 20 news items on the front page of the Fox News website. The climate deal came 20th, after “Bikini-wearing stewardesses sell calendar for charity” and “Florida store sells ‘Santa Hates You’ T-shirt”(11). George Monbiot Dec 17, 2007

    That was my try at the profound philosophical discussion. Let’s move on to the reappraisal of who we are and what progress means? How long have people been mass marketed to and told that in order to be a real person you need to buy this and wear this and drive this and live in this and drink this or this and act this way talk this way walk this way. You get the idea. Time is short maybe ten years to turn this around so again let’s cut to the chase. Just the fact that the Earth is here is a miracle but to be just the right distance from the sun. The moon just at the right place to make tides. Life and how it formed very lucky. Ok look how far we have come in just the last fifty years in some way’s in other ways no. Progress moving forward somehow help people to understand they are real. It’s Ok to be a human. Somehow I think that may take a few years and time is short we have the technology right now to turn this problem around. It will not be easy and tuff times are ahead but if we try with a little luck we can do this. Come on people we need to help each other. Ideas, That was my try at the number one problem facing the human race.

    “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”
    Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
    “It’s not that I’m so smart , it’s just that I stay with problems longer .”
    Thanks George for staying with this problem

  9. Donald Hawkins said on December 24th, 2007 at 10:40am #

    Let’s look at the facts. There is 7 to 10 years to stop putting CO 2 into the atmosphere to keep the levels below what will mean we can’t stop it. If that happens well in ten years maybe twenty it’s not what you want it’s what you need. Oh and there is that little problem of what happens to the way we all think once we know it is to late to stop. Then the reality of the problem droughts, flooding, heat and on and on. Right now Durham, NC has about 40 day’s of water 210,000 people. Atlanta 3 months 5 million. Austrian is already in big trouble drought. The India Ocean to there East a tad bit warm and how much more CO 2 can it take in not much. China I think most of you know the pollution in that country. In some areas the water is polluted down to 300 meters ground water bad sign. So stop buying stuff before it’s to late. As we can all see what needs to be done is not happening so we the people stop buying stuff. Yes some people will lose jobs that’s where the working together part comes in. It’s a tuff one but somehow I think we will all feel better if we could do this. Of course there will be people who still want to drive SUV’s and build those 90,000 Sq foot houses. Ok how about we give them the entire State of Colorado it’s all yours and the rest of us try and turn this thing around. I still think it’s a good idea.