The long journey from denier to delayer — Bush hits the climate alarm snooze button at G8

snooze.jpgThe NYT‘s Andy Revkin dissed the G8 climate statement with the blog headline, “Rich and Emerging Greenhouse-Gas Emitters Fail to Set Common Long-Term Goal for Cuts.” The headline of the NYT‘s article on the subject, however, is “Richest Nations Pledge to Halve Greenhouse Gas.” The Grist story begins, “world leaders reached a landmark deal: agreeing to cut emissions in half by 2050,” calling it a “significant step” for the Bush Administration, whereas NRDC’s international climate policy director, Jake Schmidt, blogs, “Yup, Just as I Predicted…No G8 Leadership!

What is going on? You can read the “G8 statement on climate change and environment” and decide for yourself.

I think your reaction depends on whether you are a “glass is 90% empty” or “glass is 10% full” type of person and whether you judge the president on the relative basis of his dismal, pathetic, unconscionable climate record (in which case what he agreed to at the G8 was a big deal) or on an absolute basis of what needs to be done to avoid catastrophic climate impacts for the next 10 billion people to walk the earth (in which case what the G8 did was give a placebo to a diabetic — a sugar-coated placebo, that is).

The Guardian online asked for my commentary, “Ignoring the climate change alarm.” Here are some excerpts:

In November, [IPCC head] Rajendra Pachauri, said: “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.” And remember that Pachauri was handpicked by the Bush administration to replace the “alarmist” Bob Watson.

Now compare his alarm call to the nonchalant language of the Declaration on Environment and Climate Change from the G8: “We recognise the importance of setting mid-term, aspirational goals for energy efficiency.” Translation: hit the snooze button.

Some people seem excited by the fact that Bush signed a G8 deal to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. But here are three reasons this won’t keep any insomniacs awake.

First, the G8’s statement on the matter was:

We seek to share with all Parties to the UNFCCC the vision of, and together with them to consider and adopt in the UNFCCC negotiations, the goal of achieving at least 50% reduction of global emissions by 2050, recognising that this global challenge can only be met by a global response, in particular, by the contributions from all major economies, consistent with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

The language couldn’t be any more watered down than if it had been in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

Second, what is the baseline for this 50% reduction? Today’s level of emissions? The text doesn’t say. In fact, we probably need a 50% cut from 1990 levels.

Third, who really cares if the G8 pledges to share their vision and to consider and adopt a global “goal” of a 50% cut in emissions by 2050? What we need to know is not what the G8 thinks the world must do but rather what the G8 itself is prepared to do by 2050 – and by 2020. At a minimum, the G8 needs to establish firm targets and timetables that return to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. If the state of California can make such commitments, the G8 can….

Bush will have one of two historical legacies. First, the next president of the United States, together with Congress and the American people and the rest of the world, could sharply reject and reverse Bush’s energy and climate policies. That might save the climate and leave Bush’s administration as a small historical footnote – an utterly irrelevant anti-science president.

Alternately, the US and the world might fail to overcome Bush’s lost decade. Then future generations will view him bitterly as the man who, more than anyone else on the planet, ruined their health and well-being. Let’s all hope and pray we end up with the irrelevant Bush.

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16 Responses to The long journey from denier to delayer — Bush hits the climate alarm snooze button at G8

  1. Rick says:

    Reminds me of the G8s approach to the food crisis as well. Make declarations about declarations to do something about the problem and then retire to an 18 course meal consisting of caviar, octopus and champaign. Kind’a makes Emperor Nero look like an amateur.

  2. tidal says:

    Geez, Joe, you’re getting ubitquitous… Guardian CIF, Salon, Science Blogs, tv & radio, Gristmill… next stop – Rush? ;)

    What is most disturbing about this wishy-washy declaration is the mid-term “aspirational” approach. Whether we target 50% or 80% or 90% reductions by 2050 is somewhat missing the point. That target is going to be amended multiple times in the interim as concentrations and outcomes are better understood. But the PATH by which we achieve the reductions is equally important as the final levels, because of the “stock” versus “flow” aspect of GHG concentrations. If we dawdle and spend too much time on BAU, then we build up the concentrations to a point where even drastic cuts later in the century aren’t sufficient. The G8 declaration is mute on this reality.

  3. Sam W. says:

    re: “If we dawdle and spend too much time on BAU, then we build up the concentrations to a point where even drastic cuts later in the century aren’t sufficient. The G8 declaration is mute on this reality.”
    People still don’t believe that a disaster is possible. Or they think it is inevitable and beyond human control. Even Pickens’ Plan puts it in terms of national self-sufficiency, not in terms of climate disaster, which is why he can blithely suggest using natural gas for transportation needs.

    That, Joe (BTW), is why maybe you shouldn’t have spoken so bluntly to the cable station. Or should have spoken bluntly in a different way. Reframe the wind idea from natiional security to possible climate disaster. Or rather, add possible climate disaster to the frame. More people will listen to the national security argument than the PETM argument, even if the latter, if it comes to pass, will be far more disastrous than the former.

    Just a thought. Not an easy job for sure. Apocalypic visions have gotten a deservedly bad rap over the past few centuries/millenium. We are paying like the Boy Who Cried Wolf, even it wasn’t us crying wolf in the past.

  4. llewelly says:

    G8 says Good Riddance to Greenland Ice Sheet, New York, London, Bangladesh, Florida, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, The Great Barrier Reef, …

  5. paulm says:

    Yeah Joe, next time tell a white lie. Once your on the media, get the word out in an eloquent manner.

  6. Robert says:

    Joe, what would you have said or done at the G8 summit if you were Bush? You have to remember that you ar being paid to represent 300 million very selfish and arrogant people, and that any major policy shift which actually involved cutting CO2 (or even reducing the rate of increase) would be thrown out by the congress and senate. That’s democracy in action.

    Bush is not alone in this. It seems that all political heads of state are in the same position – its just that some of them present the greenwash more subtly than others. We in the UK are definitely doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about cutting emissions but have had considerable success nevertheless in positioning ourselves as a world leader on the issue.

  7. Lars says:

    Joe, I’m pretty critical of the G8 statement, but your report isnt entirely fair. The language is not ‘watered down’, but standard UN language, used in all negotiation, and of course awfully incomprehensible.

    When it talks about ‘major economies’ contributing, the meaning is that China and India has to do something too (which is considered a slap in the face in those quarters).
    When it talks about ‘differentiated responsibilities’, thats UN speak for poorer countries having to do less, and thus, richer countries doing more (that is – exceeding 50 percent reduction). So its not all bad.

    But your missing the crucial point: The paragraph in the text about the rich countries needing to do ‘absolute emission reductions’ in the mid-term, thats before 2020. Which is also good – hadnt it been for the loop hole you can drive a country the size of the US through:
    ‘and, where applicable, first stop the growth of emissions as soon as possible, reflecting comparable efforts among all developed economies, taking into account differences in their national circumstances’.
    In other words, rich nations have to do absolute reductions soon, unless they dont feel like it. Lex America, i think.

  8. Arthur Smith says:

    Joe – Revkin’s blog post you quoted was *not* referring to the G8 statement, but to a follow-on meeting after the G8 meeting – that’s why the headline included “emerging” nations as well as the developed ones.

  9. Robert says:

    The words “Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter.” could only come from the man that 300 million (well, a few of them anyway) voted in.


    Makes you proud not to be American.

  10. Earl Killian says:

    Robert, the actual vote in 2000 had more ballots cast for Gore, including in Florida (according to the full recount). The only majority Bush had were 5 votes in the Supreme Court which allowed him to occupy the White House. 2004 is the really shameful story, IMO.

  11. Joe says:

    Arthur — You are correct. That doesn’t really change my view of the headline or the G8 meeting.

  12. Robert says:

    Earl, They say ‘People get the government they deserve’. Its true in places like Iraq (who else but Saddam Hussain could rule the rabble?), but it also seems to be true in the US.

    American’s business is business. You elect leaders who put business first and everything else second. If that means annexing Iraq then so be it – and in 2004 a majority of US voters voted for it.

    Over here in the UK I have noticed a really sharp swing to the right. It has become very fashionable for radio presenters, phone-ins, blog commenters, etc to shout loudly against all forms of tax, particularly ‘green’ taxes. This is a big change from 11 years ago when Blair took office. We are definitely becoming a more short-sighted and selfish society.

  13. paulm says:

    Can a global economic depression save the world from Climate Change?

    This is an debate that we should seriously consider. How bad has Climate Change got…should we voluntarily shutdown our economies to fight Global Warming?

    Are we at a point, given the outcome of the G8 meeting, that it would be more beneficial for mankind and nature if our economies where to collapse now, rather than march on causing climatic catastrophe.

    I believe that this is a radical alternative measure which should should not be ruled out in our efforts to tackle Global Warming. What do you think?

    Part II – How could this be archived?

  14. David B. Benson says:

    paulm — It won’t happen. Read Garret Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons”.

  15. Earl Killian says:

    David Benson, it always helps to provide a reference. Here’s one:

  16. paulm says:

    Bush is doing a good job so far! Probably not as difficult to archive as you think!