India and China should be at forefront of ‘eco-civilisation’ push – Financial Times
The unfortunate truth, however, is that the US has never been a leader on the issue of climate change, nor the wider question of sustainability.
After former US president Jimmy Carter worried that “too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption”, Ronald Reagan criticised the whole idea that constrained resources could impact the economy. He said that there were “no such things as limits to growth”, and it was not “what’s inside the Earth that counts, but what’s inside our minds and hearts”.
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Despite the efforts of Bill Clinton and his vice-president Al Gore on the Kyoto protocol, George W Bush abandoned the treaty once he took office. Barack Obama did what he could with climate negotiations in Copenhagen and Paris, and it was only in his second term that he made the deliberate decision to pursue a less stringent agreement to avoid passing a treaty through a polarised and obstructionist Congress. Mr Trump’s action on climate change is thus not a break from the past, but a continuation of it.
The US has rarely joined global agreements that it did not have a hand in drafting, and has even rejected those in which it was actively involved. The US is not a member of the International Criminal Court. It has not ratified the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, the Convention on the Rights of the Child or the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
America has long followed a “my way or the highway” approach to global rulemaking.
At the 1992 Earth Summit, George HW Bush stated that “the American way of life is non-negotiable”: a statement that holds true today. Few Americans today realise that a serious effort to tackle climate change requires Americans to change how they live. Even supporters look to technological innovation and new industries as the mechanism to tackle carbon emissions. The political narrative supports this denial: even arguments that support tackling climate change are wrapped in promises of “green jobs” and “energy independence”.
Thus with our attention on the Paris climate accord, it is worth making the point that focusing solely on carbon emission reductions means we miss the bigger picture about planetary wellbeing. High-energy use per capita — regardless of where the energy comes from — helps to fuel a resource-intensive economy, with relentless consumption and a high social and environmental cost as externalities are not priced in. This is clearly unsustainable, and has depleted, polluted or destroyed much of the world’s resource stocks. Climate change is merely part of a wider problem: our unsustainable economic growth model.
What we need is an “eco-civilisational revolution” led by the developing world where the majority of people live. While it is disappointing that the US — the world’s second-largest emitter and largest per capita emitter among industrialised countries — will not contribute, the world should not be held to ransom because the domestic political processes of 5 per cent of the world’s population cannot treat the problem seriously.