Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus — yes, yes, the reapers — want you to know that environmentalism’s not only dead, but possibly responsible for the coming apocalypse.
Noting that in Montreal the Bush administration has yet again derailed climate efforts, and the Blair government has yet again acquiesced thereto, the reapers pin the responsibility right where it belongs: on … greens?
But the stalemate over addressing global warming highlights the failure of neither Blair nor Bush but rather of environmentalism and the politics of limits.
Picture me here doing a double-take-and-rub-eyes, a la Jon Stewart.
Global warming did not have to be, a priori, an “environmental” issue. It was made so by environmentalists who understood global warming originally not so much as an impending global crisis that needed to be addressed by any means necessary but rather as a powerful new argument for restricting activities (e.g., driving cars and burning fossil fuels) that they already wanted to restrict. As such, the solutions to global warming were, from the very start, conceived of as limitations and restrictions — the approach that lies at the heart of the Kyoto Protocol and virtually every other effort to address global warming.
Environmentalists have been tireless in trying to bring the threat of climate change into mainstream dialogue, often in the face of hostility and mockery. But they talked about it wrong. They should have offered an environmentalism free from limits. And a pony.
The reapers’ big strategic tip is for Blair to "call Bush’s bluff, and up the ante." How? By challenging Bush to accelerate invest in the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate — the very APPCDC the reapers themselves call "cynically conceived to undermine Kyoto and Blair."
Sharp-eyed Grist readers will recall that the APPCDC is a rather shapeless blob. To the extent it has any substance at all, it portends a massive investment in nuclear and coal technology on the part of the U.S. and Australia — technology they can then sell to China, Japan, India, and South Korea.
Why the pact is necessary to spur such investment, or to induce those countries to buy the resulting technology, is unclear. No doubt the agreement sweetens the deal for some corporate conglomerate or other.
As the Bush administration has made very clear lately, there’s more than one way to tackle global warming.
One way: set shared caps on CO2 emissions; establish a carbon-trading market; let industries compete on the open market to find which can generate the largest reductions.
A second way: appoint nuclear and coal — two huge, heavily subsidized, politically entangled industries — winners of the coming energy shake-up, by fiat; invest billions of taxpayer money developing them; export to other countries to foster dependence; repeat.
The latter strategy should offend both environmentalists and small-government conservatives. It’s a move to preserve, through heavy-handed intervention in the market, a cozy and lucrative relationship between the government and a particular set of private-sector companies — companies which ought to have the balls and fortitude to duke it out with all the other energy alternatives on level ground.
And the reapers think it’s some kind of genius judo move to ask Bush to invest more in it? I’m sure Big Coal appreciates the sentiment.
Look, I get that environmentalists are too gloomy. I get that they should do more to publicize the fact that a transformed energy profile is good news for the economy. I get that Kyoto is not the end-all be-all on climate.
But once again the reapers are mistaking their own cleverness for a set of solutions.
The Bush administration isn’t stalling on climate change because of the "politics of limits," it’s using the politics of limits as an excuse. Different framing won’t budge it. There are tangible political and economic ties at stake here. It knows who its friends are.