Last Friday, Lord Nicholas Stern, the author of the British government’s 2006 report on climate change economics, warned that many countries might boycott US goods if they were deemed to be responsible for too much carbon emissions.
After the disappointing showing by the US in Copenhagen last year and the failure by Congress to follow through with any action this year, the influential economist’s pointed remarks should not be surprising.
Stern told the London Times, “The US will increasingly see the risks of being left behind, and 10 years from now they would have to start worrying about being shut out of markets because their production is dirty,” He specifically mentioned aircraft, cars and machine tools as goods which could face restrictions.
There is an irony here that should not be missed. Many who opposed the climate bill in the Senate, particularly on the Republican side, cited economic concerns, weakness in the economy, potential loss of jobs, etc. as reasons for not supporting the bill, saying, in essence, that the cost of compliance was too high. But if Lord Stern’s prediction turns out to be true, the economic cost of non-compliance could be far higher. This is another clear example of politicians failing to see the larger picture, in this case, the international one.
A recent piece in the New Yorker by Ryan Lizza, gave a detailed accounting of the climate bill’s failure to pass the Senate despite the extraordinary coalition of Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham that worked very hard on its behalf. Besides the more obvious causes for the bill’s defeat that have previously been discussed in this column, such as: partisanship, inertia, paid influence, and the economy, there were also several miscues within the administration, or should I say between the administration of the Senate bill that was working to get the bill passed. First, there were two cases in which cases in which the administration freely gave away what the Senators had been hoping to barter for support: expansion of offshore drilling, and the nuclear loan guarantees. These were promises that “Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman wanted to negotiate with their colleagues. But Obama had served the dessert before the children even promised to eat their spinach.” Additionally, there were critical times in the process, when the President’s support was needed but did not come through.
Next week, US representatives in Cancun will have another opportunity to put a stake in the ground and declare a genuine commitment to working to resolve this looming issue, which is generally considered the greatest long-term threat facing humanity. But given the current political environment it is unlikely that any such thing will happen. Meanwhile, the Arctic ice continues to drip into the ocean as it melts and pound after pound of CO2 continues to waft into the atmosphere, approximately25% of the world total coming from the United States of America with its roughly 5% of the world’s population.
RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails.
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