The collapse of the talks on global warming is not the end of the world

Share

It may seem perverse to hail the collapse of the climate-change talks in The Hague as a great step forward for humankind, but some of the more apocalyptic wails of despair from the environmentalists should be discounted.

It may seem perverse to hail the collapse of the climate-change talks in The Hague as a great step forward for humankind, but some of the more apocalyptic wails of despair from the environmentalists should be discounted.

The fundamental problem with the response to global warming is that the Americans simply do not see it the same way as we Europeans, living as we do in our old, small countries. The United States was built on cheap energy, on environmental despoliation on a grand scale, and yet still has such huge and beautiful wild spaces that the idea of the planet as a crowded and fragile ecosystem has not yet taken firm hold.

The issue at The Hague, therefore, was always going to be that of persuading the US, where one-twentieth of the world's population burns a quarter of its fossil fuels, to commit itself to the targets agreed at Kyoto three years ago. Not that the US alone bears responsibility. The poor countries of the world use twice as much oil per unit of output as the rich countries. But they can only be persuaded to tax energy more heavily as their economies grow if the rich world does so first. The apparent willingness to compromise of the American delegation to The Hague was, therefore, a significant breakthrough.

Certainly, the French should be criticised for scuppering the deal on the grounds that half a loaf was worse than no loaf at all. Only a small part of the blame should attach itself to John Prescott, whose vainglory as the man who brokered the original deal at Kyoto blinded him to the realities of French domestic politics. The failure to do a deal this time is deeply regrettable and unnecessary, but it is not - if the phrase may be permitted - the end of the world.

What matters is that a deal is now possible. The anguished complaints from the greens, that the moment has been lost because President George W Bush would be less amenable next time round, miss the point. It is no use trying to bounce the US into a deal on the basis of what one group of negotiators might be prepared to concede at any given moment. If the US is to take action to meet the Kyoto targets, legislation will have to pass both Houses of Congress as well as the White House. And the grim truth is that most US legislators have not even got to what they would call first base, in that they simply do not accept the basic science of world climate change.

Changing American hearts and minds will take time, during which there will be failures and successes for green arguments - arguments which are nevertheless gradually making headway. That they have a long way to go even in supposedly "green" Europe is indicated by the likely reaction to the Fabian Society's modest and sensible proposals for higher taxes on domestic gas and electricity, and on aviation fuel, and for VAT on new homes.

Nor is the problem of climate change - serious though it is - the only threat to sustainable, civilised human life on the planet. The sheer weight of numbers of people threatens water supplies, the survival of other species, the ozone layer and no doubt many horrors as yet unknown.

Viewed from the other end of the telescope, what is remarkable is that transient politicians, operating within the short-term constraints of local electorates, have achieved so much in the face of such huge long-term problems. Now is not the time for pessimism of the will.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick