Celebrating the Kyoto treaty

Today Kyoto comes into effect, and we should celebrate.

Not because the Kyoto reductions will reduce carbon emissions significantly, but because if this tiny first step hadn’t been achieved, the likely success of future treaties would be even less.

It should have been a no-brainer: the richer countries most responsible for increased emissions since the industrial revolution make fairly cheap and minor reductions in their carbon emissions in order to start the process. The larger, more expensive steps will require significant international cooperation, both among the industrialized countries and with the developing world, to produce a reduction in emissions of 90% or more by 2050, and then zeroing out sometime later.

We can’t afford it, said the presidents of the United States and Australia. It will hurt our economy. Reducing carbon emissions will hurt key industries: coal (West Virginia is electorally important), oil, and SUV manufacturers. Reducing carbon emissions significantly will change our lives, but the tiny reductions specified in the Kyoto treaty would have a small effect, in part because Russia’s economic recession will be used in the accounting. The United States currently spends a fortune for energy because energy is so cheap: if the price of energy rose slightly, the total price of energy is expected to come down just because people would finally replace that light bulb with a compact fluorescent, turn off the heat and light in unused rooms, and buy more energy efficient appliances and cars.

Addressing climate change seriously costs money, and will limit our ability to fly out to see the family for the weekend. President Bush says we can’t afford it. Whenever I hear about the costs to us, the picture comes to mind of the Bengali woman trying to eke out a living on a piece of land near the ocean (National Geographic, September 2004, the global warming issue). As do the tens of thousands of Eurasians who died in the summer of 2003. Africans seeing their climate changed, and droughts increased, by the use of fossil fuel in the Western hemisphere.

In the absence of national decisions on carbon emissions, we will suffer a more chaotic implementation system. Utilities opting today for coal power will soon find themselves charged for that fourth pollutant, carbon dioxide; retrofits are expensive. Our current means of governing by fits and starts, even within an administration, and certainly between administrations, makes creating a rational system difficult. It makes all decisions expensive, but addressing climate change even more so: American opposition to phasing in carbon reductions will prove expensive.

The environment is not a priority in the United States. For some reason, we think this is an issue that will harm our grandchildren, not ourselves. Implicit in our unwillingness to act is that it is OK to harm our grandchildren. That like the Titanic, the turn can be made when needed. That solutions are simple, buy compact fluorescents and perhaps a hybrid. That consequences will be minor. That we can think about the environment when we have more time in our personal lives, after Iraq, after the social security distraction, once there are effective campaign finance laws, in the future. Later. Besides, my behavior is environmentally conscious because I…. and I resent that so and so gets to … while I am being asked to change. Some ideologues believe that scientists have an ideological background to their warnings on climate change and other environmental concerns.

There is more than a fierce battle with ourselves. Many in the developing world believe that concerns about climate change are a means of locking them into an underprivileged state. (People who live in countries where almost all have cars bemoan the Chinese shifting from bicycles to cars, and so we should. But the Chinese have TV, and know about our cars.) That concerns about climate change must rank behind more immediate concerns, such as low agricultural productivity (some of which is already being blamed on climate change and air pollution), disease, conflict, education.

To address climate change, we need to look at our own behavior, and at policies and politicians that impede reducing carbon emissions significantly. We need to find methods to reach out, to find common ground with other peoples in addressing how we change our lives in order to limit changes to the atmosphere.

Today Kyoto comes into effect, and we should celebrate. And get to work. Today, not later.

Comments that go beyond praise and nays Michael Moore has made several more comments. In response to the post on carbon taxes, he opposes policies that hurt the majority.

3 Responses to “Celebrating the Kyoto treaty”

  1. Johan says:

    Karen – I got a chance to inhale your whole blog to date all at once. It’s just what I hoped you would provide. Now I can point people to the things you write without their having to wade through all the … um … one-upping that goes on in certain other places. Thank you! I’ll add your site to my own modest list of links.

  2. michael says:

    Hi Karen, good writing, very stimulating. The environment is not the problem. The game is Natural Selection, whether or not one believes in evolution. In fact, just observe how many times a day each person talks in terms of Natural Selection and its twin poles of cooperation and competition. The conservative religious stance against abortion, against gay & lesbian marriages, and for “family values” has more to do with Natural Selection than it does spiritual altruism.

    As the human economy (population & consumption) increasingly dominates the economy of all of life, an increasing sophistication is needed to maintain the right relationships among all the species of life and with all the earth systems in the air, on the land, and in the water. We cannot be only concern with the red line of green house gases in the atmosphere. We must also be responsible stewards (not just consumers) of the earth’s resources. And we find, deep within our personal unconscious, a willingness to forgo our individual biological fitness to allow other species of life have their fitness.

    And here is an important role of religion. Formation of eternal trust. There will be violations of this spiritual and biological necessity. Religion provides a steadiness of purpose and of witness. However, I tend to agree with Nicholas Georgescu Roegen, the human enterprise on earth will be brilliant and short.

  3. michael says:

    I want to finish some thoughts in the previous comment. Tibet, I understand, had a sustainable culture for many decades. The primary method they had for birth control was that 25% of their population was celebate in monestaries and convents. I’m fascinated that as monestaries and convents started to close down and priests left celebacy to get married, more and more homosexuals (gay & lesbian) left the closet to live openly. Biologically speaking, both the celebate life and homosexuality provide a method of birth control.

    When my first grandchild was born, I realized the power of human sentiment, especially as it exists in the US. When I saw its tight bonds between people, I got very discouraged and full of dispair. I doubted that there could ever be substantial progress on slowing the rate of growth of the human economy (population plus consumption). Would heterosexual couple willingly not have children? Would their families really understand? Would men and women choose celebacy either inside or outside the cloister? Would their families really understand? If they chose not to have children, would others have more? Is there an collective unconscious (Carl Jung’s term) push in this? Now, some 10 years later, 10 children (2 biologically related) call me grandpa, the pull of human sentiment is even more strong. I really don’t see an opening. China’s rather brutal “one child” families resulted in too few women. Democracies with their idea of one person one vote, become disproportionate in representing various issues.

    Good blogging, thanks.