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The planet won't wait

By Peter Vintila - posted Friday, 25 September 2009

A tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing …

The Prime Minister lacks Macbeth’s sense of the dark absurd … and Shakespeare’s brilliant wit. He is a man with a reckless mission and currently in a transcontinental flap. The world of global climate change policy is not taking it seriously enough, not moving fast enough for him. Not for the first time:

Kevin Rudd has talked down prospects of international agreement at a crucial climate change summit in Copenhagen in December, amid fresh predictions the conference is doomed to failure … differences between the positions of the US, the European Union, China and India were too great … Yesterday, preparing to leave for the US today for climate talks at the UN and the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, Mr Rudd went out of his way to dampen expectations.


But how much weight does his lament carry as he rushes from summit to summit with that sense of accessorised urgency. Just enough time to squeeze in a latte with Bill Clinton.

Flapping, of course, is a political strategy. Colour and movement to conceal vacuity; to hide his nation’s nationally interested and shameful contribution - that huge 5 per cent in unconditional reductions that Australia has offered to the world when the science is calling for 40 per cent by 2020. This is “idiot’s” work, full of “sound and fury, signifying nothing”. A smarter person would stay at home and shut up. Rudd has the shameless front of a 10-storey building. But if sound and fury is all you have, you work it and work it hard.

The global game is pretty obvious now. Smart nations, most of the rich world, have one over-riding goal to which saving the planet has been well and truly subordinated: minimising carbon liabilities in order to advance economic ground.

Climate change policy is about increasing or at least not surrendering competitive advantage; about upholding the national interest. It might cost the earth but, hey, you get to stay rich. This is why we, among the world’s highest emitters, shame ourselves with 5 per cent reduction targets.

Getting our carbon costs down means getting others to pay more, especially those two giants to our north - who, almost ironically, are signing up for vast quanta of our coal and gas. Here’s a few short grabs of what the Indian Minister for the Environment told Hillary Clinton about the idea of paying more when they met in July: “There is simply no case …”. Get that? “No case …”

“There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have among the lowest emissions per capita, face to actually reduce emissions," Ramesh told Clinton ... “an international agreement … in Copenhagen will depend on being creative, leveraging international technology and especially "international capital is going to be key".


China’s story will be the same. Rudd will have the inside story on both. That’s why he’s flapping and hand ringing. At the moment it looks as if Australia’s game is up here. This is another of many signals that western imperialism may have run its full course. There are now too many “natives” to boss around, they have a rock-solid argument and even if they didn’t, some have got weapons of mass destruction. India and China have uncontrolled carbon emissions as well as nuclear arsenals. So Hillary replies:

… she "completely" understood India's argument about per capita emissions …"On one level, it's a fair argument," she said, but she argued that the per capita argument "loses force" as developing countries rapidly become the biggest emitters.

The only thing “losing force” here is the imperium’s response. Only when India’s people become big or equal per capita emitters does the developed world have a moral leg to stand on. How close are they? The most recent data indicates US, Chinese and Indian annual per capita emission stood at 19, 4.6 and 1.3 tons of CO2 respectively. In other words, US emissions are four times as high as the Chinese and 15 times as high as the Indian. Even in aggregate terms, the US remains four times as high as India.

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About the Author

Peter Vintila is currently completing a book called Climate change war or climate change peace to be published early in 2010. An exploratory essay under the same title is available on his website.

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