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The late Aaron Wildavsky, professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley had it right. “Warming (and warming alone),” he wrote, “through its primary antidote of withdrawing carbon from production and consumption, is capable of realizing the environmentalist’s dream of an egalitarian society based on the rejection of economic growth in favor of a smaller population’s eating lower on the food chain, consuming a lot less, and sharing a much lower level of resources much more equally.”
Scares pop up again and again – mainly with the aim that Wildavsky describes. Remember the report of the Club of Rome nearly 30 years ago, claiming that the world was running out of natural resources, like copper, oil and drinking water? That report turned out to be a massive delusion, but it captured the imagination of the public and the press, much as the global warming scare has.
This is not to say that warming may not be a problem. It may be, but dispassionate science – not technophobia and romanticism - is needed to answer the big questions. But back to sinks: Another reason for opposition is a general suspicion of these free-market-oriented Americans and skepticism toward technological and economic progress. Typical of this sentiment is a leaflet distributed by the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change, one of dozens of environmental groups here in The Hague. You might think that such Green would support planting trees, but no:
“Our Cosmo vision requires us to condemn the inclusion of sinks in the CDM of the Kyoto Protocols. ... Sinks projects whose prime criteria are economic and financial will lead to an expansion of large-scale plantations and through this we will become slaves of the carbon trade. Our forests should not be valued only for their carbon sequestration capacity.”
The U.S. delegates, with backing from Canada and Japan, have introduced a compromise, a proposal to scale back the use of sinks as emissions credits, but Europe is resisting. A statement by the European Union said that the “proposal does not ensure the environmental integrity of the Kyoto Protocol” – whatever that may mean.
This reaction may be mere posturing – of which there is a lot in The Hague. For example, many of the developing countries here, say sources, are not out to cool the climate but to exact commitments from the U.S. and other nations for billions of dollars in “technology transfers” and other spending on climate-change mitigation.
It is a discouraging spectacle to anyone who expected rational, scientific discussions, but climate change has become an issue teeming with emotion – well illustrated by the six-foot-high pile of sandbags in front of the Netherlands Congress Center, where this conference is taking place.
The bags were stacked by protesters as a demonstration of what will happen as the level of the sea rises with the thermal expansion of water and the melting of glaciers, ice caps and sea ice. But on this question, “the range of uncertainty is high,” writes Kenneth Green, director of the Environmental Program at the Reason Public Policy Institute, based on Los Angeles. Green cites the 1995 (most recent) report of the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
But uncertainty is not a word the participants like to hear. They have already made up their minds.