Blame Canada

Global warming is the media cause célèbre of the moment. At the National Magazine Awards, I was struck by how many climate change stories had been nominated and how they seemed to draw the warmest response (no pun intended) from the audience. The new Al Gore movie is stoking this fervor. (Gore’s appearance on Stephanopoulos’s Sunday ...

608425_Emissions5.jpg
608425_Emissions5.jpg

Global warming is the media cause célèbre of the moment. At the National Magazine Awards, I was struck by how many climate change stories had been nominated and how they seemed to draw the warmest response (no pun intended) from the audience. The new Al Gore movie is stoking this fervor. (Gore's appearance on Stephanopoulos's Sunday show was DC must-see TV.)

I'm no scientist but I tend to think that global warming is happening and that this agenda setting is actually relatively healthy. Global warming is precisely the kind of long-term problem that tends to get kicked into the political long grass. So, there's a role for the press in raising awareness. But those who advocate dealing with the problem have to get beyond Kyoto. The inconvenient truth about it (you were meant to laugh at that) is neatly illustrated by this anecdote from a rising star of the British Conservative party, Ed Vaizey: "Canada signed up to reduce its emissions to 6% below their 1990 levels by 2012. They currently stand at 35% above their 1990 levels."

Now, if Canada--the global goody two-shoes of climate change--is missing its target by such a shocking amount, it is fair to surmise that Kyoto is not the silver bullet. Equally, people in China and India aren't going to be prepared to live without the kind of luxuries that we take for granted in this corner of the world. So, several billion new global consumers are going to be living increasingly non-carbon neutral lifestyles over the next couple of decades. Any solution to the problem has to square this circle.

Global warming is the media cause célèbre of the moment. At the National Magazine Awards, I was struck by how many climate change stories had been nominated and how they seemed to draw the warmest response (no pun intended) from the audience. The new Al Gore movie is stoking this fervor. (Gore’s appearance on Stephanopoulos’s Sunday show was DC must-see TV.)

I’m no scientist but I tend to think that global warming is happening and that this agenda setting is actually relatively healthy. Global warming is precisely the kind of long-term problem that tends to get kicked into the political long grass. So, there’s a role for the press in raising awareness. But those who advocate dealing with the problem have to get beyond Kyoto. The inconvenient truth about it (you were meant to laugh at that) is neatly illustrated by this anecdote from a rising star of the British Conservative party, Ed Vaizey: “Canada signed up to reduce its emissions to 6% below their 1990 levels by 2012. They currently stand at 35% above their 1990 levels.”

Now, if Canada–the global goody two-shoes of climate change–is missing its target by such a shocking amount, it is fair to surmise that Kyoto is not the silver bullet. Equally, people in China and India aren’t going to be prepared to live without the kind of luxuries that we take for granted in this corner of the world. So, several billion new global consumers are going to be living increasingly non-carbon neutral lifestyles over the next couple of decades. Any solution to the problem has to square this circle.

All of the above leads me to conclude that the solution is going to have to be technology driven. And what country is nearly always at the forefront of technological change? Yes, you guessed it: That global warming bogeyman, the United States. So, if media interest in the story can create public pressure to get the government to start creating market incentives for this kind of change, then it really can serve a purpose. Before I get bombarded with emails from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, I should say that I am just calling for reporting and commentary on what is actually happening – not scare mongering or even mild exaggeration.   

James Forsyth is assistant editor at Foreign Policy.
Tag: Canada

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