America and climate change

In his recent State of the Union Address, President Bush described “the serious challenge of global climate change” and proposed a few measures intended to help deal with it. The development is largely unsurprising. Whether rightly or wrongly, Hurricane Katrina and unusual weather in the last few years have started to convince many Americans that climate change is real. Businesses expect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to be regulated eventually, and want the rules set early so they can start investing properly. Also, some groups (those who make biofuels or solar panels, for instance) see the chance to cash in on this opportunity.

The specific changes proposed – efforts to reduce gasoline consumption through ethanol substitution and better fuel economy standards – are not going to amount to much, in terms of reducing GHG emissions. Producing ethanol from corn grown with intensely mechanized and fertilizer dependent farming just shifts emissions around, rather than reducing them a great deal. Likewise, while fuel standards are a good idea, they will hardly be a comprehensive solution either to dependence on foreign oil or climate change.

All that skepticism aside, this may represent the start of a massive political change. Clinton, McCain, and Obama have all expressed support for federal controls on emissions (albeit ones less rigorous than even the lax targets of Kyoto). Business and religious groups, as well as farmers, are starting to weigh in on the side of doing something about the problem. Actually doing so would ultimately require either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system for emissions. In either case, the United States and over developed countries would need to lead the charge towards stabilizing and reducing emissions, before poor states like India and China can be expected to make sacrifices to those ends. When that does begin to happen, the rich world retains an obligation to help out, through mechanisms like aid and technology transfer.

Naturally, there is an enormously long way to go and no reason to believe that what looks like momentum today will be sustained. That said, if even an administration that has proven expert at believing what it wants to about the state of the world is expressing concern about climate change, perhaps a genuine consensus behind action is starting to develop.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

8 thoughts on “America and climate change”

  1. This may be of interest to you:

    The Independent has some anticipations on the soon to be released first volume of IPCC’s 4Th Assesment Report , concerning matters such as climate change and global warming. Quoting the article : It is virtually certain (there is more than a 99 per cent probability) that carbon dioxide levels and global warming is far above the range of natural variability over the past 650,000 years. It is virtually certain that human activity has played the dominant role in causing the increase of greenhouse gases over the past 250 years.

    That said, it’s probably best not to be up-to-the-minute for your thesis.

  2. Bush accused of distorting evidence on climate change
    By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
    Published: 31 January 2007

    The Bush administration has been accused of routinely misleading the public over the threat of global warming and of orchestrating efforts to try to suppress scientific findings that highlight the reality of climate change.

    The chairman of a Congressional committee investigating the administration’s actions said yesterday that government officials had sought repeatedly “to mislead the public by injecting doubt into the science of global warming”. Democrat Henry Waxman also said the government was refusing to make public documents that would expose its behaviour.


  3. The United States’ Department of Energy is stating that corn based fuel is not the future. From the article, “I’m not going to predict what the price of corn is going to do, but I will tell you the future of biofuels is not based on corn,” U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell said in an interview. Output of U.S. ethanol, which is mostly made from corn, is expected to jump in 2007 from 5.6 billion gallons per year to 8 billion gpy, as nearly 80 bio-refineries sprout up. In related news, Fidel Castro is blasting the production of corn fuel as a blatant waste of food that would otherwise feed 3 billion people who will die of hunger.

  4. Climate politics: Beyond Bush

    The next US president could lead the country into meaningful action on controlling greenhousegas emissions, but only if he, or she, can seize the moment. Jeff Tollefson reports.

    It is 20 January 2009, and the new US president has just been sworn into the Oval Office. Environmentalists are optimistic. Scientists, activists and politicians around the globe have their fingers crossed. For the first time in eight years, the United States is led by a politician who advocates quick and forceful action on global warming.

    The question on everybody’s mind is what comes next. It doesn’t take much to prepare a policy paper and offer campaign sound bites about the dangers of global warming. It’s also easy to grandstand one’s green credentials once in office — perhaps by requiring Cabinet members to offset their carbon footprints or by departing the inauguration in a hybrid vehicle (although the armour-plating might well hamper its gas mileage). But it is a lot harder to bind the world’s leading economy to a meaningful regulatory regime for greenhouse-gas emissions.

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