At the very same time the World Summit on Sustainable Development –
focused mainly on alleviating world poverty and dealing with global
warming - was under way in Johannesburg, the man who seems to be the actual
President of the United States, Dick Cheney, laid down the Bush
doctrine regarding military intervention in other countries by the United
In essence it appears that, in direct contravention of the usual bases
of international relations, the US claims the right to use military force
anywhere it sees a possible threat.
It is rare that history offers such obviously contrasting visions of
the future simultaneously, but we should be aware that what is being
presented is two alternative visions of the reconstruction of society at a
global level - otherwise known as globalisation.
Johannesburg is the spiritual child of Rio and Kyoto. At these meetings
a completely new form of social development on Earth was proposed, built
on the realisation that humanity’s problems are now global in character
and have to be dealt with on a global basis, through global cooperation.
Nations could no longer pretend that only their own interests mattered.
So, just as this principle of social change is becoming established
with the most profound implications for the future, along comes the most
ideologically defined US administration in decades. Which, starts talking
as if the world has shifted back to the ‘bad old days’ before World
War Two, when military power was the final arbiter of world events.
Although there is still debate about the specifics, the vast majority
of the world’s climate scientists agree the planet faces critical
pressure due to global warming. Unless it is dealt with, projections
suggest that any hope of economic progress will be wiped out within
decades; due to the costs of climate change and subsequently human
civilisation. Then life itself will be threatened by out-of-control global
Unlike previous problems of international urgency, such as the arms
race, this problem cannot be negotiated away. It will not disappear if we
stop thinking about it.
The Rio summit in 1992 was the first time that the world’s nations
met under the new concept of global responsibility for a global problem.
Later the Kyoto Protocols were developed in 1997 to begin action to deal
with global warming.
Critics (such as Australian environment minister, David Kemp) have
pointed out that the Kyoto regime – which basically aims at lowering
greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 to 1990 levels - will make little actual
difference to the progress of global warming. Of course they are right.
There are estimates that it will take up to a 50% cut in current
greenhouse gas emissions to actually prevent serious global warming.
But this misses the point. Kyoto is in fact, what is called in
international relations, a confidence building measure. It is a framework
in which countries act, and in so-doing show that cooperation can work.
This is particularly important these days because the growth of
globalisation has emphasised the competitive relationship between nations.
Attempts at remedying climate change must therefore deal with the free
rider problem, so an overarching regime of cooperation must be put in
place to share the costs.
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