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By tackling global warming, Blair can show he is not a US poodle
Friday May 28, 2004
A month ago, Tony Blair made a big speech about global warming. The prime minister's message could not have been clearer. The Kyoto treaty, for all the haggling, fell far short of what was needed to crack the problem, and time was running out. "The issue of climate change is now very, very critical indeed," he said.
Clearly Blair has been listening to Sir David King, the government's chief scientist, who says that within a century the last humans will be sharing Antarctica with the penguins. Others, however, appear deaf to the warnings.
Actually, it's helpful to find out which bits of Whitehall are subject to capture by pressure group, and it's helpful to understand the conceptual problem to be overcome if action is to follow rhetoric. In essence, this boils down to whether modern industrial capitalism is compatible with a healthy planet. Does it make sense, for example, for the G8 to pressurise Opec into pumping more crude in order to bring down the cost of a scarce resource? Is it right that airlines pay no tax on aviation fuel, thus aiding their attempts to boost demand by keeping prices low?
Make no mistake, the forces of conservatism arguing for business as usual are powerful. The good news is that they are opposed by an even stronger lobby - the insurance sector - that sees climate change as a real and immediate threat. These guys have seen weather-related claims rise over the past decade; they believe the planet is warming up and they fear the risk of ruinous losses in the not-too-distant future.
I don't think we have a good idea of what the consequences of human-induced climate change will be - I doubt we'll be moving to antarctica any time soon, though, and there've been wrong predictions made in the past on this subject. However, I doubt that it is realistic to believe that we're having no impact. In fact, I suspect that our emmisions from the last century and a half will continue to have an impact even if we abandon a carbon fueled economy today. This is an issue that needs attention -
Rather than a compex system of controlls like Kyoto, I'd like to see an international treaty organization with the power to tax greenhouse gas emissions, at a rate set by an international treaty. This body would have inspection teams and the power to assess nations for their greenhouse gas emmissions. It should have mechanisms to prevent political manipulation of assesments. Revenues beyond those necessary for running the organization should go into a conservatively invested climate change insurance fund. If the worst happens, this fund won't make much difference; but if there is more moderate climate change, with gradually rising seas and spreading deserts, this could help pay for sea walls and relocation of displaced people. Plus, the increased cost of carbon fuels will discourage rising consumption and encourage the development of competing, non-carbon based fuels.
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