What to say about the behavior of the Bush administration in Montreal these last two weeks? As the consensus and will to act among the world’s governments grows stronger and stronger, the administration’s posturing starts looking less sinister and more … just embarrassing.
The main goal of the COP MOP talks this time around was to come to some agreement about what happens after Kyoto. U.S. chief negotiator Harlan Watson (Exxon’s favorite) arrived in Montreal saying "the United States is opposed to any such discussions," making it crystal clear — if John Bolton’s recess appointment as U.N. ambassador didn’t — that the U.S. doesn’t give a flying frick what the international community thinks.
But wait, how about we add a little pissiness to our intransigence? The really embarrassing stuff went down late Thursday, when the AP ran a story revealing that Bill Clinton would be coming to speak. Let’s go to tape:
Bush-administration officials privately threatened organizers of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, telling them that any chance there might’ve been for the United States to sign on to the Kyoto global-warming protocol would be scuttled if they allowed Bill Clinton to speak at the gathering today in Montreal …
"It’s just astounding," the source told New York Magazine. "It came through loud and clear from the Bush people — they wouldn’t sign the deal if Clinton were allowed to speak."
To their immense credit, the organizers called the bluff and told Clinton to come anyway. In his speech, Clinton said Bush is "flat wrong" in his contention that curbing emissions would hurt the economy. (Of course that’s irrelevant, since what Bush really thinks is that curbing emissions will hurt his political contributors, which is true.)
The Bushies backed down — even trotted out a spokesflack to say that speeches like Clinton’s were "useful opportunities to hear a wide range of views on global climate change” — and agreed to attend informal talks the following day.
Oh, but then they walked out of those talks.
At a closed session of about 50 delegates, Dr. Watson objected to the proposed title of a statement calling for long-term international cooperation to carry out the 1992 climate treaty, participants said. He then got up from the table and departed.
Objected to the proposed title! Jeebus.
A little more than 24 hours later, a few words were jiggled and the U.S. slouched back into the room, agreeing to participate in "open and nonbinding" talks.
Meanwhile, nearly every other industrialized nation agreed to talks geared to producing binding emissions limits. Consider this remarkable statement:
European delegates said they became convinced over the course of the conference that they could move ahead on climate change because so many Americans — including state and local officials, senators, students and even former president Bill Clinton — journeyed to Montreal to urge negotiators to embark on a new round of binding talks.
So where does this leave us?
Basically, a room of grown-ups came together and decided to get serious about making deep cuts in greenhouse gases. While they were doing so, a steroidal, pimply, resentful adolescent — the U.S. — stomped around in their midst, cursing, blustering, throwing tantrums, and generally making a fucking fool of itself.
It’s not just the petulance — scuttling major international talks in a fit of pique? really? over a few words in the title of a statement? seriously? — but the sheer disarray. Rove is having a bad week.
And thus the world moves forward as best it can, waiting, waiting for a new U.S. administration, hoping it won’t be too late by then.
America’s failure to ratify Kyoto is widely viewed as a scandal. The Administration’s effort to block a post-Kyoto agreement has received less attention, but is every bit as dangerous. Without the participation of the United States, no meaningful agreement can be drafted for the post-2012 period, and the world will have missed what may well be its last opportunity to alter course. "If we don’t get a serious program in place for the long term in this post-Kyoto phase, we will simply not make it," Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton, told reporters last month. "We will be crossing limits which will basically produce impacts that are unacceptable." Such is the nature of global warming that the problem is always further along than it seems. The kinds of changes that are now becoming evident — the rise in sea levels, the thawing of permafrost, the acidification of the oceans, the acceleration of ice streams — mean that much larger changes are rapidly approaching. To continue to delay is not to put off catastrophe but, rather, to rush toward it.
There are many reasons for Americans to feel shame right now, considering the dishonor we are heaping on our own history and ideals, but this is among the most disgraceful.