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Jewish World Review
July 14, 2009
/ 22 Tamuz 5769
The Summit of Green Futility
Two headlines caught my eye last week. "Summit Leaders in Climate Deal" read the one on the front page of the Wall Street Journal Europe. Above it was a picture of 10 smiling heads of state the leaders of the Group of Eight, plus China and India. Below was an article that, in contradiction to the cheerful photograph, described how the world's political leaders had failed, once again, to halt climate change by decree. The group could not agree on short-term emissions targets, could not agree on how developing countries would be compensated for meeting the targets and, indeed, could not even decide from what baseline any targets would be calculated.
Buried on Page 21 of the same newspaper was a story headlined "Ill Winds Blow for Clean Energy"; the picture was of oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens, who has just decided to postpone, until further notice, an investment in a big Texas wind farm. Natural gas prices have fallen so low, it seems, that once-promising investments in alternative energy no longer make sense. Banks that once might have financed such large-scale investments are now unwilling to do so. And thus business leaders are also failing, once again, to halt climate change through technology and entrepreneurship.
Let me be clear: I do not doubt the reality of climate change. I have long accepted that human use of fossil fuels has caused it, and I agree that great efforts should be made to reduce carbon emissions, as well as our politically risky dependence on oil and gas. But I do doubt the wisdom of assuming that eight or 10 politicians will ever solve this problem during a meeting at a conference center, in Italy or any other country. I also question whether even several hundred politicians plus their scientific advisers, assorted environmentalists and lobbyists will solve this problem at the Copenhagen climate super-summit scheduled for December. At that time, the original signatories of the Kyoto Protocol are supposed to renew their vows and the U.S. delegation is supposed to bow its head and rejoin the club. If everyone can agree, new emissions targets will be set. They will be as unenforceable as the emissions targets we have now.
The truth is that carbon emissions will not be reduced by international bureaucrats, however well-meaning, sitting in a room and signing a piece of paper. They will not be reduced by public relations campaigns or by Oscar-winning documentaries. Above all, they will not be reduced by a complex treaty that neither the United Nations nor anyone else can possibly supervise, particularly not a treaty that effectively punishes those countries that abide by it and ignores everyone else. They can, however, be reduced by the efforts of entrepreneurs such as Pickens. If he and others can find economically viable ways to produce clean energy, then the problem will solve itself without the aid of a single international conference. To put it another way: The first solar power billionaire will have many, many imitators.
American politicians who really care about climate change I'm assuming this includes our president, as well as a majority in Congress should skip the summits and instead ask themselves why the oil and gas prices that started rising a couple of years ago (creating a boom in alternative-energy research) have once again dropped to an artificial low. Why artificial? Because the price of fossil fuels has never reflected their true cost, either environmental or political. It doesn't reflect the cost of the U.S. military presence in the Middle East. It doesn't reflect the cost of treating asthma. And it certainly doesn't reflect the cost of rescuing bits of the coast of Florida that will be submerged by rising sea levels. Raise the taxes on fossil fuels to reflect those costs, and Pickens's project, along with many others, will once again be viable.
It's also time for those international politicians who really care about climate change I'm assuming this includes at least the Europeans, as well as the Canadians to move on. The drama is over: The American president and the U.S. delegation have rejoined the negotiations. There is no further need for green, self-righteous preening. Attacks on greedy, polluting Uncle Sam will fall flat. Instead of pontificating at summits, they, too, should go home, brave the wrath of their voters and slap higher taxes on fossil fuels in their countries. If you care about the planet, save the jet fuel, cancel the conferences and focus on creating the economic conditions for energy entrepreneurship. Then, this problem will eventually solve itself.
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Gulag: A History
Nearly 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet Union's labor camps in their more than 60 years of operation. This remarkable volume, the first fully documented history of the gulag, describes how, largely under Stalin's watch, a regulated, centralized system of prison labor-unprecedented in scope-gradually arose out of the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Fueled by waves of capricious arrests, this prison labor came to underpin the Soviet economy. JWR's Applebaum, a former Warsaw correspondent for the Economist and a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, draws on newly accessible Soviet archives as well as scores of camp memoirs and interviews with survivors to trace the gulag's origins and expansion Sales help fund JWR.
Comment on JWR contributor Anne Applebaum's column by clicking here.
07/09/09: Obama Puts Medvedev Ahead of Putin
06/30/09: In Morocco, an alternative to Iran
06/23/09: An overlooked force in Iran
06/16/09: Some good in a bad election
06/09/09: Why Is the Right Doing So Well in Europe?
06/02/09: Is China Pulling Strings in North Korea?
05/26/09: What a Member of Parliament Deserves
04/22/09: The Twitter Revolution That Wasn't
04/14/09: Do we really need interactive exhibits to bring Jefferson to life?
04/07/09: No Nukes? No Thanks: Obama's odd obsession with universal nuclear disarmament
03/31/09: What's Loud, Unnecessary, and Costs $75 Million?
03/03/09: European Disunion
02/24/09: Who cares what Hillary Clinton says to China's leaders about human rights?
02/17/09: Witless protection
02/10/09: Our Ticket Out of Afghanistan
01/27/09:Why some foreigners can't believe Obama won the presidency fair and square
01/20/09: A Flight Test for All of Us
01/14/09: Europe's New Cold War
01/07/09: Pointless Peace Proposals
12/30/08: The magnificent rhetorical legacy of the Founding Fathers
12/23/08: Do riots in Athens portend demonstrations in Paris and Cincinnati?
12/16/08: Breach of Trust: Bernard Madoff's massive fraud will cripple American capitalism
12/09/08: In praise of charismatic politicians
12/03/08: Moscow's Empire of Dust
11/20/08: Getting Past Mythmaking In Georgia
11/12/08: In Praise of Political Rock Stars
10/03/08: Election Day myths you must resist
09/30/08: Not just a metaphor: Lehman Brothers was economic's 9/11
09/04/08: Class of '64
08/28/08: Did Hillary really help the Barack cause?
08/27/08: Show of Power, Indeed
08/19/08: What Is Russia Afraid Of?
08/13/08: When China Starved
08/11/08: Two of the world's rising powers are strutting their stuff
08/05/08: How Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago changed the world
07/29/08:The Hour of Europe Tolls Again Ö But are European politicians up to the task?
07/15/08: Why Does Obama Want To Campaign in Berlin?
07/01/08: Citizen Athletes: How did a guy who can't speak Polish end up scoring Poland's only goal of Euro 2008?
06/24/08: Why do we expect presidential candidates to be kind?
06/17/08: Pity the Poor Eurocrats
06/12/08: Is the World Ready for a Black American President?
05/28/08: The Busiest Generation: America seems to value its children's status and achievements over their happiness
05/20/08: Leave Hitler Out of It: The craze for injecting the Nazis into political debate must end
05/13/08: A Drastic Remedy: The case for intervention in Burma
05/07/08: A Warning Shot From Moscow?
04/23/08: Radio to stay tuned to
04/17/08: China learns the price of a few weeks of global attention
04/01/08: Head scarves are potent political symbols
03/26/08: The Olympics are the perfect place for a protest
03/19/08: Could Tibet bring down modern China?
03/12/08: Have political autobiographies made us more susceptible to fake memoirs?
03/05/08: Why does Russia bother to hold elections?
02/20/08: Kosovo is a textbook example of the law of unintended consequences
02/06/08: A Craven Canterbury Tale
02/06/08: French prez' whirlwind romance reminds voters of his political recklessness
© 2009, Anne Applebaum. By permission of the author