Friday, October 06, 2006

The Environment and Politics.

In the Financial Times, Philip Stephens sums up qui well the current problem with regard to the question of the environment in his article, Inconvenient truth that can change everything (via Eurotrib)

Save for the flat-earthers in George W. Bush’s White House and their friends in the Exxon Mobil oil corporation, the science of the greenhouse effect is incontrovertible.
The politicians’ response has been to fiddle as the planet begins to burn. Most display the timidity that comes with a failure to understand that climate change is more than just another policy headache.
Sure, plenty of politicians can talk the talk about carbon emissions, combined heat and power plants, wind farms, reforestation and the rest. Some will also tiptoe on to more dangerous ground by venturing that cheap air travel may not be an inviolable birthright.
All these things are important. They are also largely irrelevant for as long as climate change is treated as just another policy issue. If western governments, let alone China and India, are to forestall catastrophe, global harming has to become the political issue: generating a response that embraces and infuses every area of government and politics from economics to housing, scientific research to trade, foreign policy to human development.

Interestingly, it seems that the debate has gained momentum in the US and while there is great opposition to it on the fringe, the idea that Global warming is a real threat is making more sense to more people. Even churches are now considering it a major issue, and we know how powerful the American churches can be. (read this article on California Interfaith Power and Light which has rallied 400 congregations in California and 4,000 nationally to call attention to global warming.]
Undeniably, Al Gore’s movie, Hurricane Katrina, heat-waves and other “inconveniences” have sped up the process. There are also new reports coming out everyday that confirm the trend and you’d have to be blinded by ideology to not see the problem.
While the Bush administration lags behind in even acknowledging the problem for the reasons mentioned above, much is being done at the state and local level. The most spectacular one is in
California legislature recently passed a bill (Assembly Bill 32, the California Climate Act of 2006) designed to curb the effects of global warming by imposing strict restrictions on businesses.

France people have been convinced for a long time that global warming is a major threat to our world. According to today’s Libération, more than 80% say they are preoccupied by global warming [in fact 83% according to a poll last April] and its effect. Paradoxically, the issue is almost non existent in the current political debates in this pre-campaign season.
French politicians have done next to nothing and the question of global warming has not even surfaced in this (early) political campaign. It took the screening of An Inconvenient Truth for the French socialist contender Segolène Royal to even mention a few things (but nothing very impressive). The problem with the left is that the Greens which were allied with the socialists have been too busy bickering for power among themselves. Their greatest fault, however, has been to politicize the issue and turn to political and social issues that had nothing to do with the environment. They have thus alienated a lot of people who are genuinely preoccupied by the issue.

As far as the French right is concerned, no much has been done either. Just like with everything else, Chirac has been big on words (with a vague Charter)but has done nothing worth mentioning (other than signing the Kyoto protocol). Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative contender has the “ambitious” plan to solve the problem “within the next generation” and has not said how he intend to do that. He too fails to see the urgency of the problem. The current government has devoted 0.4% of its budget of the Ministry of the Environment. some emergency - especially when you know that in France, anything that is taken seriously has to come from the state first, you realize how bad the situation is.

French environmentalist Nicolas Hulot has been trying to stir the debate. He even mentioned he might run for the presidential electins (à la Ralph Nader maybe?). Whether that is really an option does not matter, he might at least succeed in having the French politicians address the issue, at least in the campaign. That’s after all what the voters are interested in.


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