BRICs Cook the Climate (Part One)

Yves here. The viewpoint expressed in this article will not go over well in some circles, since the BRICs have insisted that they have the same right to pollute as much as first world countries did in getting to their living standard. But the problem is the planet cannot remotely support everyone in emerging economies living at first world living standards, at least the way we produce them now. And that isn’t operative only the energy and greenhouse gasses fronts. We’ll all need to eat lower down on the food chain as well.

By Patrick Bond, a political economist with longstanding research interests and NGO work in urban communities and with global justice movements in several countries. He teaches political economy and eco-social policy, directs the Centre for Civil Society and is involved in research on economic justice, geopolitics, climate, energy and water. Cross posted from Triple Crisis

As they meet in Durban on March 26-27, leaders of the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – must own up: they have been emitting prolific levels of greenhouse gases, far higher than the US or the EU in absolute terms and as a ratio of GDP (though less per person). How they address this crisis could make the difference between life and death for hundreds of millions of people this century.

South Africa’s example is not encouraging. First, the Pretoria national government and its Eskom parastatal electricity generator have recently increased South Africa’s already extremely high emissions levels, on behalf of the country’s ‘Minerals-Energy Complex’. This problem is well known in part because of the failed civil society campaigns against the world’s third and fourth largest coal-fired power plants (Eskom’s Medupi and Kusile), whose financing in 2010 included the largest-ever World Bank project loan and whose subcontractor includes the ruling party’s investment arm in a blatant multi-billion rand conflict of interest.

Other climate campaigns have made little dent against the guzzling mining and smelting industries which chew up South Africa’s coal-fired electricity and export the profits. The same is true for the high-polluting industries of the other BRICS countries, even in China where environmental protests are rising and where it is unsafe to breathe Beijing air on the majority of days so far this year.

How bad are the BRICS? The 2012 Columbia and Yale University Environmental Performance Index showed that four of the five states (not Brazil) have been decimating their – and the earth’s – ecology at the most rapid rate of any group of countries, with Russia and South Africa near the bottom of world stewardship rankings.[1] And China, South Africa and India have declining scores on greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPI.

While BRICS fossil fuel addiction is well known, less understood is how their heads of states consistently sabotage global climate talks hosted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by effectively destroying the Kyoto Protocol – in everything but name – starting with the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, picking up the pace with the Durban Platform in 2011, and sealing the deal in 2012 with Russia’s formal withdrawal from Kyoto.

In 2009, the ‘BASIC’ (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) countries’ leadership joined with Washington to confirm climate catastrophe at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC in Denmark. The Copenhagen Accord between Jacob Zuma, Barack Obama, Lula da Silva, Wen Jiabao and Manmohan Singh foiled the UN global strategy of mandatory emissions cuts, thus confirming that at least 4 degrees global warming will occur this century. The Accord is officially non-binding, and in exchange, the Green Climate Fund that Obama promised would provide $100 billion annually has simply not been forthcoming in an era of austerity.

‘They broke the UN,’ concluded Bill McKibben from the advocacy movement[2] Copenhagen was what Naomi Klein called ‘nothing more than a grubby pact between the world’s biggest emitters: I’ll pretend that you are doing something about climate change if you pretend that I am too. Deal? Deal.’[3]

[1]. Columbia University and Yale University, Environmental Performance Index 2012, New York.

[2]. For more, see P Bond, Politics of Climate Justice, Pietermaritzburg, University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2012.

[3]. N Klein, ‘For Obama, no opportunity too big to blow,’ The Nation, December 21, 2009.

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  1. Ben Johannson

    The Copenhagen Accord between Jacob Zuma, Barack Obama, Lula da Silva, Wen Jiabao and Manmohan Singh foiled the UN global strategy of mandatory emissions cuts, thus confirming that at least 4 degrees global warming will occur this century.

    A confirmed four degree rise farenheit or centigrade? One means hardship, the other means totally screwed.

    1. different clue

      Are you sure that warning was expressed in Fahrenheit degrees? If it was a UN connected or issued warning, it would be in centigrade degrees.

      America is the only country left which still uses natural organic Fahrenheit degrees. The whole rest of the world uses artifical plastic centigrade degrees.

    2. gepay

      first of all, the computer models used to make these degree raising predictions are nowhere near actually modelling how the climate works. How the ocean modulates climate is no where near being known. There are many characteristics of clouds that are still unknown. Even climate people say they can’t correctly model the effects of aerosols with any confidence. Then there are the imperfectly known feedback mechanisms. Not to even bother with how much is not known about the Sun and the interactions of the sun with energies from the rest of the Universe.
      Our whole way of life does have to change in order to preserve the ecology of our Earth so that it continues to be livable for us humans. China is a major polluter and it should know better. This is a real problem. The world’s dependence on coal and oil needs to be changed. This is a real problem. CO2 is not a pollutant. It is the least of our worries.
      The US military industrial complex is a real problem. The Banksters and the 1% are real problems.
      There are so many real problems that it is a sin to waste on energy on the chimera of Anthropogenic Global Warming.

        1. different clue

          If you two are correct then you have a real contrarian investing opportunity before you. Buy all the oceanside seacoast beachfront land you can possibly afford to plant the seeds of future family fortune.

    3. Francois T

      It is expressed in Celsius.

      However, there is a little, yet very inconvenient detail that everyone should bear in mind:

      “Earth will warm by N degrees Celsius” means the global average temperature will rise by N. Oceans occupy 70% of the planet’s surface. Laws of physics dictate that temperature are cooler over the ocean surface than over the land surface.

      Since we don’t live on the oceans, but on land, astute readers can already tell where I’m going with that.

      That’s right! Every piece of land located 150-200 miles or more than the ocean coast will be at least 2 to 3 degrees hotter on average than the global average.

      “Let’s stick around the coasts” you say?

      Nice try but there are a couple of considerations that interfere with such an elegant solution. First, many more mega-storms are coming our way for the foreseeable future. Second, it is more and more likely that we will reach a 4 degrees Celsius by 2060. (2100 is the public figure used so as not to scare the children too much) This means every scenario about sea level rise underestimate the problem by several orders of magnitude. Ergo, staying near the coasts will be, at best, a temporary measure. Try to live like that when you’ve been a sedentary civilization for the last 1,000 years.

  2. Andrey Subbotin

    Maybe worth at least a cursory mention that a lot of third world pollution is the outsourced first world high-pollution entreprises that produce inputs for high-value-added industries, and have first-world owners?

    The idea that third world should stop industrial development and live forever as serfs of the (high-polluting) golden billion isn’t going to get a lot of traction, ever. Its one of those situation Yves loves to cite, where people will accept losses in the name of fairness.

    1. different clue

      Maybe worth a cursory mention is the fact that the first world working class never supported the outsourcing of its jobs and production to the third world. The relocating of first world production to the third world is strictly an artifact of the International Free Trade Conspiracy against the First World Working Class. We did not ask for NAFTA or WTO or MFN for China or ANY of that. No one except the Free Trade Conspirators asked for that.

    2. Charles Fasola

      It is time to grow up finally, isn’t it? Your assertions are nothing but the typical child like reaction that goes something like “my friend Billy got……… why can’t I have it too”! Humanity will continue to work towards its own demise. How about asking that not wholly developed mass inside your skull to consider what attitudes like your own will leave those who will take your place upon this planet? Wake up!!

  3. The Dork of Cork.

    The west consumes much of Chinas coal indirectly , we buy their basic products , much of which WE NEED.

    We now have a global barbell economy (which is breaking down in Europe)
    A Dash for capital light nat gas weight in the west , a coal weight in the east all linked by heavy bunker fuel.

    Europe seems to be giving up on its Nuclear thingy , see Lithuanias & the Baltic in general dramatic loss of energy density after the shutdown of its unit 2 reactor.

    Dash for gas countries like Ireland need coastal coal plants to preserve life in the cities.
    I am afraid that is the bottom line.

    Certainly the global trade system is grossly unsustainable by any standards…………the real costs (especially in precious oil is off the scale)

    1. different clue

      We made those products ourSELF, beFORE the International Free Trade Conspiracy shipped that production to China or wherever. The first step to Globa Dewarming is to abolish Free Trade and restore Protectionism and bring back our kidnapped production held hostage in its places of Third World exile. Bring it back to the First World where it was conducted with half the carbon emmissions per unit of output as what is emmitted per unit of output in China today.

  4. traveler

    “We’ll all need to eat lower down on the food chain as well.”

    Yeah, and we could start now. So doable.

    1. Massinissa

      By lower on the food chain, I assume Yves means things like less Beef. Beef is incredibly unsustainable.

      1. different clue

        Only if it is grainfed beef. Beef on range and pasture is just as sustainable as the range and pasture itself is, and if
        the range and pasture biosequesters more carbon than what the cattle on that pasture breath out and fart out, then beef on range and pasture is Globally DeWarming as well. But it means many times less beef per person than what people are used to under the current petro-subsidized grain feedlot system delivers now.

  5. Francis

    This is a short, great post Yves. A think it’s essentially a scream in the dark. Unmodestly I’ve a great understanding of these topics that I studied for years. I was worried about 10 -15 years ago, I turned definitely pessimistic 5 years ago, now my soul is as black as the darkest night. I’m retired, I’ve travelled extensively all over the world, I was a mountain climber 30 years ago and I’m still a climber. The incredibly fast melting of the glaciers in the Alps and in the Himalayas are something that I’ve experienced personally. I was many times in the megalopolis of Asia and South America, since the early 80′, I’ve seen this huge cancer growing and growing. I’ve not an aswer, or, yes I have it, but it’s not the good one.

    1. mf

      you need to reflect on the brevity of human life. It has been getting warmer in the last quarter of the XX-th century, and it has generally been getting warmer for the last two hundred years. This does not mean that getting warmer has anything to do with carbon dioxide. Thirty years is a lifetime for us, one or two data points on the geological time scale. So what seems to you like an irreversible trend, is most likely a fluctuation. And then reflect on this: we are ~12,500 years into interglacial which lasts on average 10,000 years. Would you rather see these glaciers advance?

      1. different clue

        The manmade global warming theorists made predictions a couple decades ago about what “would happen” if industrial mankind released geological amounts of carbon into the air over historical time. The predictions they made are happening as predicted. That satisfies me about the reality-based prediction-proved correctness of the MMGW theory.

        The upside of that theory is that shrinking the global economy enough to where coal, gas, and oil is no longer necessary to run it; combined with raising the level of plant-growth-driven carbon biosequestering and in-soil/under-soil storage will slow down and then reverse the current warming, if it is pursued rigorously enough.

      2. American Slave

        “This does not mean that getting warmer has anything to do with carbon dioxide.”

        Than what is making the earth warmer? There hasn’t been any increase in the amount of radiation per sq.m the earth is receiving so with the increase in extreme weather (like a hurricane in New York of all places!) I think its safe to say maybe it is co2

        1. different clue

          And also the nitrogen oxides from excess nitrogen fertilization in petro-subsidized commercial agricultural. And also some methane. And also some freon-like gas whose name I forget which is used to super-clean computer chips in the chipmaking process. Also black soot from incomplete combustion of various fuels.

          The CO2 and the black soot might be the easiest things to solve technologically speaking, and the nitrogen oxides after that. The major barriers are social one way or another.

          1. Zapster

            And seriously, if you remove a million years worth of stored carbon from underground and return it to the air, you return the atmosphere to the same state it was *before* all that carbon was stored away–and it was a heck of a lot hotter then, too.

            The entire debate has reached silly season proportions. Nothing else is mining carbon and burning it in such massive quantities on this planet but humans.

          2. different clue


            Artificially keeping the “debate” going buys more time for the Merchants of Carbon to sell more of their “carbon”.
            There is method behind their “silly season” madness.

  6. EX-SA

    Well any greenies (I’m one) reading this should find some delicious schadenfreude from the fact that Hitachi has totally botched welding the giant boilers at Medupi and the project is facing serious delays, possibly into next year.

    Alstom’s control system software keeps failing too, and Eskom has clawed back a 10 percent retention because of this.

    But of course it has not taken action against Hitachi SA because of the ANC/government connection. That’s SA “justice” for you.

    The other aspect to this all is that power supply capacity is so constrained because of the heavy contractual supplies at below production cost to BHP Billiton’s aluminium smelter in Richard Bay.

  7. Chris Engel

    Well what are we going to do? Tell underdeveloped sovereigns that they can’t develop exactly the same way we did?

    Until we get some more clear direct confirmed life-disturbing climate events this won’t change the trend.

    1. Mark P.

      Exactly. Till actors large and small see events that put mortal fear into them and make them change, it is what it is

      Under those circumstances, that China has thrown as much of its weight behind solar and nuclear as it has is grounds for guarded optimism.

      Seriously. That’s as good it gets at this stage of the game. Because if anybody finds that reality unbearable, they do have one alternative option: they can blow their brains out.

  8. Swedish Lex

    While working in the garden some time ago I realised that the only way to stop the planet from going under soon by our own making, there simply would have to be fewer of us. Radically so.

    We can continue to combat climate change and depletion of resources, but it will never be enough.

    Turns out that others thought of this way before I did. Here are Ted Turner’s views:

    I disagree with him that it would be possible to do this in a voluntary way (see how well that is working on all other issues of global concern).

    I am aware of the dramatic demographic issues that would become imminent with way too many old people that would have to die off first, like me.

    Also, the economic growth model would have to be ditched.

    1. different clue

      Well, since one Ted Turner causes more carbon emmissions than a thousand Ethiopians, he should advocate starting the population reduction by exterminating the Ted Turner class first, and then working down the social class ladder rung by rung by rung. Wiping out the class of people which is emitting the most carbon would do the most to reduce human emmission of carbon.

      So . . . is Ted Turner up for that? Will he go first? In public? On Live TV? Or does he just want the earth to be depopulated of its lower class majority so he and his fellow members of the Ted Turner Class can inherit the earth as their planet sized playground?

  9. Ian

    Years ago I came upon this thought-provoking claim: …by the year 2035, the weight of the people on earth will equal the weight of the earth”. At then-current rates of population growth. Comments?

    1. MacCruiskeen

      The mass of the earth is roughly 6 x 10^24 kg. The mass of people is roughly 6 x 10^11 kg. So, no. That’s not going to happen.

      One of the best headlines ever by the old Weekly World News was the announced plan by the then-still-Red Chinese to knock the earth out of orbit by all jumping up and down at the same time.

      1. MacCruiskeen

        And most of the biomass on the planet is bacterial. We like to think we rule the planet, but this is a narcissistic delusion.

          1. different clue

            Oh . . . I don’t know . . .

            Civilized Mankind is driving Mass Extinction Event Number Six all around us as we watch (and maybe participate actively or passively). If that isn’t “sovereignty” it is certainly a powerful effect.

  10. bayoustjohndavid

    “hey have been emitting prolific levels of greenhouse gases, far higher than the US or the EU in absolute terms and as a ratio of GDP (though less per person).”

    Isn’t the “ratio of GDP” formulation at least a little bit dubious. Personally, I’ve always thought it was an entirely specious argument made by conservative critics of the Kyoto Protocol and similar measures, but I’ll try to be more open-minded here. Still, I don’t see how you can say that America produces more GDP with less pollution because we design products and pay executives here but send the manufacturing to Asia. Yes, I know, factories in China have less incentive to limit greenhouse gas emissions in China, but designing an Apple(or any other) product in California and then making it in China hardly makes Apple’s share of American GDP pollution-free.

  11. docG

    I don’t know whether to be alarmed or amused at the monumental naïveté of the Global Warming hand wringers. Sure it’s probably for real, sure it’s probably due to human over-reach and carelessness. But realistically, c’mon, it’s way too late to put the Titanic into reverse, that’s NOT gonna happen.

    Just the idea that somehow some well meaning group of US “liberals” is going to convince India and China to put their economies into reverse, thus seriously endangering the well being of hundreds of millions of their citizens, is so incredibly dumb it’s hard to believe anyone with any worldly awareness would take it seriously.

    When faced with that iceberg, what you do is break out the lifeboats, NOT try to put the ship into reverse. In other words, what we need to do is neither bury our heads in the sand or assume we can somehow make it all right again by plunging the world back into the neolithic, but, very simply, adapt. And that includes population control, above all, which of course no one wants to talk about, but is absolutely necessary. On that score, the Chinese are WAY ahead of everyone else, and should be given credit for what now looks like an especially wise decision.

    1. MacCruiskeen

      We have no lifeboats. The ocean our Titanic floats in in vast, dark, and cold. There is no Carpathia coming.

    2. different clue

      We dont’ have to convince them. We just have to abolish all the Free Trade Treaties and Agreements, and ban imports from any country which emits more carbon per unit of production that what we would emit per that unit of production. We don’t have to convince “them”. We just have to defeat ( maby “exterminate”) the Free Trade Conspirators in charge of our own governments.

  12. Jardinero1

    Thank goodness for the BRIC’s. The historical record is on the side of CO2 being a net positive. In last 100 million years, CO2 levels were once higher than 2000 ppm. In earlier periods, with much higher CO2, the earth was warmer, wetter, ecologically more diverse, less desertified and had much less ice. Declining CO2, over the last 100 million years, corresponds closely with a colder, drier, desertifying and frozen planet. Given a choice between the former climate and the latter, I choose the former.

    Climate change occurs over many human generations, I have the highest confidence that human beings will adapt readily to changes in the climate in that span of time.

    1. looselyhuman

      Disgusting mendacity.

      100 million years. pfft. In our lifetime we’re going to change the planet more dramatically than it has varied previously over eons – at least eons in which there were not mass extinctions.

      That is not an easy gradual curve towards a warmer planet with more diverse ecosystems. That is a cliff that will initiate the anthropocene extinction. In case you’re wondering, a mass extinction = less diversity, not more.

      1. MRW

        You’re quoting Joe Romm?!? The guy who has sworn to destroy anyone who doesn’t agree with him?

        I don’t think you are aware of the scandal brewing about the Marcott paper Romm ADDED A RED UPTICK TO.

        Marcott’s PhD thesis (2011) was the same paper that he and some other colleagues just published in Science (2013). Thing is, in the thesis, the results are different than the results in the Science paper, and researchers replicating the 73 records are finding some disturbing info. Dates were changed by 500 to 1,000 years (these are core data records), so the 20th C is hotter. That’s the blue uptick part in Romm’s chart.

        Stay tuned.

        A Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years
        Shaun A.Marcott,* Jeremy D. Shakun, Peter U. Clark, Alan C. Mix
        Published 8 March 2013, Science 339, 1198 (2013) DOI: 10.1126/science.1228026
        Shaun A. Marcott for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Geology presented on April 22, 2011.
        Title: Late Pleistocene and Holocene Glacier and Climate Change.

        You’ll have to look up yourself. My posts don’t seem to publish with two links in them.

        1. Francois T

          Your totally gratuitous ad hominem on Joe Romm is an attempt at derail the discussion.

          We can recognize who shill for WUWT around here; You’re one of them and you can now go away.

    2. MRW

      Most university classrooms are 3000 PPM and a submarine is 5000 PPM.

      Right now, today, the CO2 count under the forest canopy in B.C. (Canada) is 600 PPM.

      1. different clue

        What was the CO2 ppm level in the 10 mile deep troposphere aBOVE the BC evergreen forest 200 years ago? What was that level a hundred fifty years ago? What was that level a hundred years ago? What was that level 50 years ago? What was that level 25 years ago? What is that level today?

        Say . . . aren’t you the Zero Point Energy guy? Have you invested all the money you have and all the money you can borrow against everything you have or ever will have in Zero Point Energy?

    3. tiebie66

      No, climate change can occur very rapidly. The change form the the Younger Dryas to the Holocene occurred in about 150 years with about half the change occurring in just 45 years. Some claim the change occurred even more quickly (vide Wikipedia’s “Younger Dryas”).

      A secondary problem is not warming per se, but the possibility that we are destabilizing the climate in such a way that that it may change state to a new equilibrium position. State changes in complex systems are often accompanied by severe fluctuations – what we’ve seen so far in climate instability would probably not even register in comparison. In fact, we may unwittingly be on the road to the needed population culling.

    4. American Slave

      “In earlier periods, with much higher CO2, the earth was warmer, wetter, ecologically more diverse, less desertified and had much less ice.”

      Plants need things like magnesium, phosphorus and many other minerals to grow, they cant just survive off of water, co2 and sunlight. In forests co2 is not a limiting factor and therefore will not make them grow faster unlike in green houses where they have optimal levels of minerals and nutrients.

  13. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio

    The BRIC in the wall isn’t them. It’s US and the other advanced political economies.

    Look in your own backyard for examples of the theme messaged here.

    This North-South dialogue plays out well in Ohio, especially in what used to be the heavily industrialized NE and the rural SE counties where extractive industries and agriculture predominate. The strip mined coal from the latter provided the electricity which powered the mills in the former. Now it’s the fracking boom! While most of the factories are long gone and the air is presumably cleaner, many NE Ohio residents would gladly trade the latter for more of the former.

    This highlights the conflict between the “Old Left” [Labor and jobs] and the “New Left” [more urbane, affluent environmentalists]. Now it’s just playing out on a global scale with the affluent North telling the poorer South that preserving the environment is more important than THEIR economic growth. Tell that to millions of human beings “living” in the favelas of Sao Paulo or the shantytowns of Capetown! It doesn’t play well in SE Ohio either. Wonder why?

    Suffice it to say, unless the environmentalists who have real jobs figure out a way to bridge the divide with their job hungry counterparts, turning the rest of the planet into a nature preserve for affluent, mostly CAUCASIAN northerners to visit and spend their eco-tourism monies is not a viable long run strategy. Indeed, such thinking plays right into the hands of the austerians in the affluent North who have coopted/colonized the professional environmentalist organizations with their adherents. After all, if Al Gore is the solution then I’m part of the problem! But this raises another issue particularly salient for this blog.

    Since MMT is featured prominently on this site and has many adherents, how does its “full employment” preference comport with environmentalism? If it merely reinforces the “economic growth” will lift all boats argument it’s part of the problem isn’t it? Why do we need more jobs when we’re already drowning in AFFLUENZA? Until the preference for PRODUCTION is shifted to a debate over the DISTIRBUTION of that production, MMT [More Metal Tonnage] is just more of the same. And let’s be honest, many a “progressive” doesn’t want to venture into this debate because it’s their affluence that is THE issue.

    I am not pretending to be any holier than thou, believe me, but I keep hitting a BRIC-wall when more economic growth is touted as the solution to our GLOBAL problems: poverty and environmental degradation. Up till now, the latter has been the ‘externality of externalities” in “our” quest to alleviate the former. But if a cleaner, livable planet comes at the expense of increased poverty, that too is unsustainable.

    1. Susan the other

      Rock and a hard place. Some very wise person was posted here maybe 2 years ago. What he said is this: What we need are lots of low-productivity jobs of very high social value. I would add ‘of very high social and environmental value.’ I keep telling myself this is just mind over matter and we can do it. But it is true that all the old economic models are useless. MMT, however, is not useless. l It could be the most useful tool we have. Money is not a problem. Pollution is a problem. Global Warming is a problem. Money, and return on investment, is nothing in the old sense. The return we now must achieve is our survival. Human problem-solving is now everything. Rubber, meet road.

    2. reslez

      Nothing about full employment says we have to engage everyone in burning coal and destroying the environment, activities beloved of private industry. We could easily put people to work remediating the environment — tasks for which there exists no current profit motive. If you don’t like that option, how about a WPA to set people producing art in the community? Or failing that, we can all sit around and braid each others’ hair, it’s quite low emission. Characterizing MMT as “More Metal Tonnage” simply displays your ignorance of some of the major writers (Bill Mitchell).

  14. Glen

    There is a world of difference between the what is happening today and what happen during the time when the West industrialized. When it comes to pollution, back then, there was no alternatives and a general lack of awareness of the consequences. Where the argument that that the West benefited from ‘dirty’ industrialization and therefore developing countries should be able to also fails is that when the West did it it was for their own consumption. We did not use slave labour and dirty energy consumption to flood China, India et al. with cheap western goods because they did not allow there own industries to behave in such a manner. Yet that is exactly what we are doing today. If you have restrictions on local producers which you do not apply to imports, companies will take advantage of it. Pollution by proxy just moves the source farther away. Unfortunately it takes jobs with it.

    The way to solve this is to expense it. If the cost to domestic (US) manufactures for inspections, proper disposal, labour standards, etc., can be quantified and applied to non conforming producers in the form of a tariff there would be no incentive not to conform to like standards.

    As it is now, China just facilitates pollution by proxy. The BRIC’s have parlayed this into a substantial advantage.

    This has always disturbed me. If we impose conditions on our domestic producers but allow such to be circumvented my moving production we cannot claim to support such measures. Polluting by proxy is still polluting.

    1. MRW

      No one likes to live with pollution. As these societies get richer, the people will demand cleaner air and water. It’s already happening in China.

    2. jonboinAR

      I’ve been too lazy or not smart enough to put it as succinctly as you have, but I’ve thought since the ’90’s that shipping our polluting overseas along with our jobs was exactly what “free-trade” was set up to do. Tariffs based on whether the foreign competitors were paying their workers decently and protecting the environment as well as our industries were required to appeared to me to be the most obvious solution, too.

    3. different clue

      That’s a good idea. Free Trade Agreements and Treaties make it illegal. As long as we fail to abrogate and withdraw from every one of those Agreements and Treaties, it will be illegal for us to pursue this very good idea.

  15. Nathanael

    As this article points out, BRAZIL is, roughly speaking, doing the right thing.

    It makes no sense to lump it in owith China and India. In fact, looking at the global situation, South American countries are, politically, waaaay ahead of the curve of the rest of the world.

    1. YankeeFrank

      Actually, the rate of deforestation in Brazil is definitely having a negative impact on the climate. Sure they use quite a bit of ethanol in their cars, but killing the rain forests is doing a lot of harm. But its a global problem, and pointing fingers does no one any good. The real cause is rampant overproduction of crap we don’t need, slave production of crap we really don’t need, and a global capitalist model that is out of control.

  16. Minor Heretic

    The problem is not that we are dumber than yeast, but that 1) our dominant economic structure, the corporation, is dumber than yeast, and 2) that much of the world’s population is so desperate that it can’t look up from surviving this week to think about long term environmental degradation.

    The best we can do is to flip aside the environmental goals for the moment and focus on getting corporate influence out of our governmental systems (“Silent and powerless” is my ideal for them). Then our decision making process has the potential to become intelligent. Until then, forget it – short term profit and growth above all else.

    A post-reform idea would be, as Glen suggests, an environmental exploitation tariff. Perhaps also a sweat labor tariff.

    1. Susan the other

      Or ask the corporations to participate in creating a new world. We shouldn’t turn out noses up at any resource. We can’t afford to waste time.

  17. American Slave

    Reading this story makes me think about the old days in China when people in the country were put into collectives and communes and free of charge to them they were given tractors, fuel, seeds, chemicals, clothing and the other necessities of life again for free from the cities etc. In exchange for the food they produced and with a few exceptions of bad weather for the whole country the countryside was highly livable and made less pollution than cities until ding dong stupid dumb deng zaoping came along slightly after Mao and instituted his household responsibility system in which the farmers no longer got any free inputs from the government but could “sell” there produce at the ultra low free market rate in the cities which made the countryside extremely unlivable so large amounts of people would move to the cities to be employed by the foreign industrialists for rock bottom bargain deal prices.

  18. Jim in MN

    A couple of thoughts as an ‘old hand’ at this stuff….

    Point one, we will burn all the oil (except a tiny bit that’s hard to get out).

    Point two, if we ALSO burn all the coal, it’s game over from a climate standpoint. Think like 5-6x preindustrial as opposed to the 2x GHG levels that the original modeling was based on or the 3x folks are afraid of now.

    So, point three, the basic dynamic is a staredown between the US and China over technology to allow a good deal of coal (AKA cash) to remain buried. India as interested bystander.

    The tricky bit–what’s the portfolio to allow that? Nuclear? Problematic, you’re talking a thousand units in politically and geologically unstable areas. Wind and solar? Partial answer, hard to get past 20%. Try real hard, get 30%. Natural gas? Sure, why not. Hydro? All you can get, again not a big slice.

    The solution is a market-based portfolio with a lot of efficiency and also some new R&D to open up high-efficiency biomass (integrated combined cycle) and electricity storage. There will also have to be some high-efficiency coal left in the mix. Call it 50% renewable, 40% gas, 10% coal with a lot of efficiency thrown in and regional variability. That’s a no-nukes look, if you take some nuclear risk you can back down on other segments.

    The hardest part: getting past our near-terminal corruption and to use regulation to create R&D and market incentives on a level playing field.That goes for the BRICs and the US.

    As for the morality, you know, the BRICs are mostly right on a good day (i.e. not grandstanding). On a cumulative emissions basis, we are simply put guilty. We need to do the R&D, prove out the systems and work out the technology transfer and yes, cost sharing to get this done globally.

    But, of course, the banksters have taken all the money.

    Let’s go take it back….or we don’t deserve a planet after all, now do we?

    I agree with some others here, corruption has trumped all other issues, even survival issues. Corruption is THE survival issue.

  19. Francois T

    I’m starting to wonder if people realize the extreme gravity of the problem and, above all, how much faster than anticipated it is already upon us.

    The most dangerous problem we face is the coming food shortages in many parts of the world, US included:

    Spin an old-fashioned globe mounted on a spindle and you will see the desert zones of the world blur into two yellow bands at around latitude 25 degrees North and latitude 25 degrees South. The Northern Hemisphere deserts caused by the Hadley cells, moving from west to east, are the Sahara Desert in Africa, the Arabian Desert in the Middle East, the Thar Desert in western India and southern Pakistan, and the Great Southwestern Desert in the United States and its Mexican counterpart. They are all along the same line of latitude. The similar band in the Southern Hemisphere (where there is much less land and much more sea) begins with the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa, continues through the great Australian Desert, and finishes up in the deserts of Peru and northern Chile. Most of the world’s richest breadbaskets, the places that are blessed with plenty of sunshine, long growing seasons and lots of rain, are located just a little further away from the equator than these deserts. Australia’s wheat belt is immediately south of the desert all the way across the county from Perth to the Murray–Darling Basin. The traditional granaries of the Mediterranean countries and the Fertile Crescent are just north of the Saharan and Arabian deserts. The American Midwest is just north (and a bit to the east) of the great deserts of southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. It would be disastrous if those desert bands expanded, encroaching on the breadbaskets—and that is exactly what will happen under almost any global heating scenario. Higher temperatures mean more energy in the system, and the Hadley cells expand, encroaching on the land that is now farmland. It doesn’t all turn into desert, of course, but we can expect rainfall to drop by 25 per cent, 50 per cent, even 75 per cent over the breadbaskets, depending on the specific region and the amount of heating that we are experiencing. That is not a happy thought, for we don’t have much margin for error with the food supply.

    Dyer, Gwynne (2011-05-01). Climate Wars (Kindle Locations 908-909). Oneworld Publications (academic). Kindle Edition.

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