What is the world coming to when a wonky slide show wins an Oscar for best documentary? The Inconvenient Truth is about just that: what the world is coming to. And Hollywood is sufficiently freaked out by the prospect of eco-apocalypse to bestow its highest honor on such a low-tech cinematic undertaking.
Al Gore might be the most recognized face connected to global warming these days, but he now shares a very crowded stage. Except for a few on the fringe, scientists have all agreed on the urgent crisis of climate change, with the latest word coming from the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The choir goes beyond the usual suspects of Hollywood and multilateral organizations. The ever-growing coalition of the concerned now includes evangelical Christians and conservatives like Republican governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford. On April 14, organizers are gearing up for Step It Up, the largest climate change action yet in the United States, and there will probably be many first-time activists holding up signs of protest.
So, the truth is out. But exactly how inconvenient will this truth turn out to be, and how inconvenienced will we become as a result?
This week at FPIF, we have a roundtable of views on climate change. In Is It Prudent to Wait?, Hoff Stauffer argues that we can avoid “draconian measures” if we simply deploy a battery of technological reforms now: plant more trees, use biofuels, build cleaner coal-fired power plants, and be more efficient about the energy we do use in cars, appliances, and so on. Stauffer believes that we haven’t gotten off the dime in large part because we fear large-scale disruption of our lives. By acting immediately, though, we can avoid such penalties.
In The Quick Fix Is In, Pat Mooney worries that governments are looking for a silver bullet that can help us avoid biting the bullet, namely changing our hoggish ways. One of these silver bullets is geoengineering. Scientists are experimenting with deliberately polluting the atmosphere to deflect the sun’s rays and spreading iron filings on the ocean’s surface to grow more plankton and absorb more carbon. For the governments who essentially geoengineered us into this mess to experiment on geoengineering solutions “is a grave miscalculation,” Mooney writes. “To do so outside the UN and without the participation of the Global South, which bears the brunt of global warming and would likely bear the risks of geoengineering, is politically and ethically suspect.”
For Tom Athanasiou, in An Inconvenient Truth, Part II, we can’t talk about global warming without talking about the politics of rich and poor. Given the way the world works, efforts in only one country to combat climate change won’t be enough. But since we can’t ask the developing world to forego economic growth, particularly at a time when billions of people remain locked in poverty, the industrialized world has to subsidize the international campaign against global warming.
“We, the citizens of the rich world, have already consumed the bulk of the global carbon budget, and there’s precious little left for the citizens of the South,” Athanasiou writes. “As such, the only way forward quickly enough is for the rich, who became rich in an open world that no longer exists, to pay the entire costs of the necessary global crash program, whatever they may finally be.” In other words we must be concerned about more than just climate change. We have to be concerned about what’s just.
Stay tuned for a lively debate between these writers that will go up this week on the site. And don’t miss FPIF’s other recent coverage of environmental issues, including Michael T. Klare’s column on the energy component of global warming and Jennifer Turner and Juli Kim’s penetrating analysis of China’s eco-crisis.
Bridging the Gap
Elsewhere at FPIF, our analysts are debating how else to bridge the growing gap between the global haves and have-nots. In a new strategic dialogue on food trade, Anuradha Mittal argues that free trade is hazardous to farmers and farming throughout the world. “Our right to food has been undermined by dependence on the vagaries of the free market promoted by the international financial institutions,” she writes. “Instead of ensuring the right to food for all, these institutions have created a system that prioritizes export-oriented production and has increased global hunger and poverty while alienating millions from productive resources such as land, water, and seeds.”
Gawain Kripke, in contrast, believes that multilateral trade agreements can play an important role in agricultural development. “A multilateral trade agreement could offer the potential to benefit both rich and poor countries, while permitting the ‘policy space’ for developing countries to pursue food security and development,” he writes. “In addition, the multilateral venue is the only place where reducing rich-country subsidies is on the negotiating table. The Doha Round negotiations, while incomplete, offered some promise of a result that takes into account the differences between rich and poor, and the need to permit developing countries tools to pursue pro-poor strategies in agriculture.”
And here, in the dialogue section, Mittal and Kripke debate the merits of each other’s arguments, finding some commonality as well as some useful distinctions.
Of course there are still plenty of entities that are interested more in widening the gap between rich and poor than in bridging it. Take, for example, Donegal International. As FPIF contributor Sameer Dossani explains in Investors Aim to Profit From Zambia’s Poverty, Donegal International bought up Zambia’s debt on the cheap amid the drawn-out process of the country’s debt cancellation. Once it became clear that the debt would be erased, this “vulture” fund sued for its share, and a British court recently ruled in its favor. Now Zambia may lose out on the benefits of debt relief.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, the government and foreign oil companies are working on a new oil law that ensures that the oil giants have a big cut of the pie. As Antonia Juhasz and Raed Jarrar explain, most Iraqi parliamentarians didn’t know about the law until a leaked version appeared on the Internet. “Passing this oil law while the political future of Iraq is unclear can only further the existing schisms in the Iraqi government,” they write in Oil Grab in Iraq. “Forcing its passage will achieve nothing more than an increase in the levels of violence, anger, and instability in Iraq and a prolongation of the U.S. occupation.”
Lt. Ehren Watada changed his mind. As FPIF contributor and Iraq Veterans Against the War member Ryan Elsey explains, Watada “originally supported the war with so much vigor that he voluntarily enlisted in the Army, but he came to conclude that the Iraq War is both illegal and immoral. Unlike millions of his fellow Americans who have changed their minds he does not have the luxury of simply swapping out bumper stickers on his car. Instead, he faces potentially ruthless consequences.” In Lt. Watada—An American Hero, Elsey urges the American public to support Watada and oppose the war.
Another veteran, Col. Dan Smith, explains in Letter to a Young Sailor why war is not the answer. “After my years in the army—and the military careers of my three brothers who also saw service in Vietnam—I have come to the conclusion that warfare is so utterly destructive that, contrary to western religious traditions that go back to the 4th century, no war is ‘just,’” Smith writes. “Politically necessary for the survival of what we know as the nation-state, yes. But political leaders in western democracies tell people that each and every war is ‘just’—and that includes both Afghanistan and Iraq.”
And finally, there is the current war on immigrants that the United States is conducting. The latest “operation” in this offensive is “Return to Sender” in which U.S. agents have rounded up 13,000 undocumented migrants to send back across the border. “Operation Return to Sender acts on the premise that the millions of undocumented workers in the United States today are little more than globalization’s junk mail,” writes FPIF columnist Laura Carlsen. “The combination of unemployment in Mexico, the huge gap between salaries in the United States and Mexico, and U.S. demand for cheap labor to compete on global markets has created the current situation. In other words, it’s the international labor market that writes the addresses and stamps the envelopes. ”
**FLASH** There are still a few spaces left in the FPIF Media Training Workshop this Friday, March 2. FPIF contributing authors get a special discount. Go here to register.
FPIF, February 26, 2007