A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Climate change, Kyoto, and the Republican tornado....

I have deliberately entitled this 'the Republican tornado' rather than 'the Bush victory'. Even though the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, may wish to cast off his image as a pliant poodle licking George W. Bush's Texan spurs by trying to extract some concessions on climate change and the Kyoto Protocol from his Washington buddy, the fact that, in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Republicans have been returned with strengthened majorities means that any measures that are seen to hinder economic recovery will be regarded with cold contempt. It is often forgotten that, even under the Clinton-Gore administration, the Kyoto Protocol on climate change was dismissed out-of-hand. The new Senate has 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and 1 Independent; the new House comprises 231 Republicans, 200 Democrats, and 1 Independent, with 3 undeclared at the time of writing. But the change is not just numerical. It is radical, with leading 'liberal' senators being replaced by hard-nosed Republicans, the minority leader, Tom Daschle, for example, losing dramatically to the lobbyist, John Thune, after serving South Dakota for 26 years. It is thus clear that neither the Senate nor the House will have any diesel truck whatsoever with Europe's whining and pontificating over America's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. The European ecochondria about climate change simply did not figure in an election focused on moral values, the economy, terrorism, Iraq, healthcare, taxes and education.

And with good reason. Even a cursory glance at the electoral map of America reveals a swathe of Republican red from Nevada to Virginia, from Texas to North Dakota. The blue of the demoralised Democrats is corralled within the highly-European founding cities of the North Eastern fathers, the industrial cities of the North, and the three Pacific states so beloved by European tourists. The Republicans hold sway right across the heartland, the southern states of the old confederacy, the wide prairies, the mountain West, and the Midwest, lands where the car and GM crops reign supreme and where both are vitally necessary. The more snooty-old Europe goes on about the car and GM crops, the more this will drive a wedge between the peoples of this heartland of America and itself. And, I have no doubts that newly-elected Republicans know perfectly well where they will reap their corn.

Mr. Blair's, and Old Europe's, addiction to the Kyoto Protocol is rightly regarded as both dangerous and a farce, if not an insult. It is an assault on different cultural values which have been largely determined and honed by history and the wider horizons of geography. Moreover, we all know that the Kyoto Protocol will do absolutely nothing about climate change. To declare otherwise is to mislead wilfully the peoples of Europe, never mind of middle America and of the world. Yet, more embarrassingly, most European countries are nowhere near to attaining their own emission targets, although they feel free to lecture arrogantly the good folk of Ohio and Oklahoma. Moreover, future energy demand does not lie in the West, but in the countries of the East, in China, India, Indonesia, and Russia, most of which are not even in the Kyoto Protocol. Russia is only likely to join the protocol because of political gerrymandering to persuade Europe to allow it to dine at the WTO table, whereas China will happily support Kyoto in theory, knowing that it can benefit economically while having to do nothing at all on its own account.

Where climate change and the Kyoto Protocol are concerned, therefore, we must say a hearty "Thank goodness!" for the Republican tornado. Along with Mr. John Howard's timely victory in the recent Australian elections, this means that the Kyoto Protocol will remain a European obsession, but one that will increasingly seem strident and irrelevant as Europe fails to heed its own rhetoric. Yet, it is such a pity that so much political energy is being wasted on this protocol, which makes sense neither scientifically nor economically, when there are so many genuine tasks to tackle in the world.

Philip, off for a coffee and a bun.

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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