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Bali's Smog of Self-Delusion

George Monbiot, a prominent environmentalist and author said to have been the inspiration for the epithet “moonbat,” coined in 2002 by Perry de Havilland of Samizdata, claims the US has subverted the Bali climate talks to the point of sabotage. His complaints begin with Kyoto, which was negotiated ten years earlier:

The European Union had asked for greenhouse gas cuts of 15% by 2010. Gore’s team drove them down to 5.2% by 2012. Then the Americans did something worse: they destroyed the whole agreement. Most of the other governments insisted that the cuts be made at home. But Gore demanded a series of loopholes big enough to drive a Hummer through. The rich nations, he said, should be allowed to buy their cuts from other countries. When he won, the protocol created an exuberant global market in fake emissions cuts. The western nations could buy “hot air” from the former Soviet Union. Because the cuts were made against emissions in 1990, and because industry in that bloc had subsequently collapsed, the former Soviet Union countries would pass well below the bar. Gore’s scam allowed them to sell the gases they weren’t producing to other nations. He also insisted that rich nations could buy nominal cuts from poor ones. Entrepreneurs in India and China have made billions by building factories whose primary purpose is to produce greenhouse gases, so that carbon traders in the rich world will pay to clean them up.

Monbiot’s disappointment in the outcome of the climate talks is understandable. CTV reports: “The Bali deal came after all-night negotiations and sets the stage for the negotiation of a new treaty by 2009 to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. No specific targets are included in the document, which is considered to be a ‘roadmap.’ The Bali deal only commits countries to negotiate.” The Australian reports: “The European Union’s attempt to introduce a reference to non-binding targets for developed countries of between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020 was knocked out on Friday following stubborn opposition led by Russia and the US.” What is worse, fear some environmentalists, is that the US might actually have gained a political lever with which to beat the Greens over the head. The Australian article continues:

The White House statement indicates it will seek to negotiate different terms for poor countries based on the size of their economy and the scale of their emissions – a move that could create a wedge in the Group of 77 bloc of developing countries. “The negotiations must adequately distinguish among developing countries by recognizing that the responsibilities of the smaller or least developed countries are different from the larger, more advanced developing countries,” the US statement said. “In our view, such smaller and less-developed countries are entitled to receive more differentiated treatment so as to more truly reflect their special needs and circumstances.”

The history of every millennial movement starts out quietly enough. At first only those who have heard voices or received messages by moonbeam come stumbling in through the tent flap. Shortly they are followed by academics who have finally found someone who understands their theories and will popularize them. Then, as the crowd swells, come the curious, lost, desperate, and heartbroken. Soon follow the peddlers who sell peanuts, popcorn, and crackerjacks to the rapt crowd; then the pickpockets, hangers-on, con artists, and small-time grifters. In the latter stages come the political entrepreneurs, demagogues always on the lookout for ready-made crowds ripe for the leading. Finally come the lawyers, regulators, and venture capitalists to turn it all into an industry. Too bad George Monbiot didn’t see which one Al Gore would turn out to be.

Environmentalism has become the political lifeboat into which the survivors of the socialist shipwreck have crammed themselves. The need to “manage the climate” became the new foundation on which to base regulatory structures, impositions, and taxes which were formerly justified by the imperative to manage the “commanding heights of the economy.” Kyoto was the highest expression of the program to “manage the climate” and provided the same new basis for socialistic policies that Marxism once did. As such, Kyoto was too politically useful to discard. But like its socialist predecessor it suffered from the problem that it wouldn’t work. That weakness would be artfully concealed by superseding it with a successor agreement to be drafted in Bali. But delegates who came to Indonesia already knew that Kyoto’s key weakness was mandating “carbon emission” reductions. Reducing “carbon emissions” really meant reducing economic output in a world where poverty is a major problem. They were caught between the Scylla of having to maintain a commitment to environmentalism and the Charybis of recession. So the politicians and celebrities at Bali driven by the need to keep the circus going and uninhibited by the Green equivalent of a Bolshevik Party did the obvious thing: they created a shell game tricked out as an emissions control scheme. Bali would no more reduce “carbon emissions” than Kyoto did, but it would give the impression of doing so. And that would be enough, wouldn’t it? Monbiot writes:

Hilary Benn [the UK Secretary of State for Environment] is an idiot. Our diplomats are suckers. American negotiators have pulled the same trick twice, and for the second time our governments have fallen for it. There are still two years to go, but so far the new agreement is even worse than the Kyoto protocol. It contains no targets and no dates. A new set of guidelines also agreed at Bali extend and strengthen the worst of Gore’s trading scams, the clean development mechanism. Benn and the other dupes are cheering and waving their hats as the train leaves the station at last, having failed to notice that it is traveling in the wrong direction.

But Monbiot is wrong. Nobody has fallen for the pretense that climate negotiations are about anything except bureaucratic enlargement and corruption, other than Monbiot and his like. Benn is cheering and waving his hat as the train leaves the station, but he knows perfectly well in what direction the train is going. It is traveling all the way to the bank. And insofar as the corporate jetsetting crowd that descended on Bali is concerned, that is entirely the right direction in which it should go. The train’s got the public’s money, you say? That’s perfectly true, but then the environmentalists never had any problem with that when they thought the locomotive of history would bear the money their way.

Richard Fernandez is PJM Sydney editor; he also writes at the Belmont Club.