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

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Year 2 Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Bognor Regis!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Year 2 Teacher currently need...

Data Analyst / Marketing Database Analyst

£24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

4chan threats to leak naked celebrity pictures just proves Emma Watson right

Chloe Hamilton
 

Let me list everything and anything that was positive about Ed Miliband's speech

John Rentoul
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits