An interesting anniversary today. The Kyoto Protocol was was put into action on this date in 2005 (it was initially adopted in 1997). This was the first world-wide treaty to address potential future climate change due to carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere. It was an admirable attempt to get nations of the world to use less fossil fuel energy but was seriously flawed from the start. I could go into a lot of detail on how emissions targets were manipulated and enforcement was lacking, but the main criticism which I (and many others) have brought up is the fact that emerging/developing economies of the world, like China and India, were exempt from reducing emissions. many people chided the U.S. and Canada for not signing the agreement (but instead committing to cut emissions on their own), but as we see now, even if the U.S. had signed on, it wouldn’y have made a bit of difference because China is now the world’s number 1 polluter. In fact, if the U.S. had signed on and energy prices skyrocketed, even more manufacturing would have moved to China and it would be even more polluted.
China has been thinking about adopting some emissions caps, but I doubt there would be strict enforcement. They try to limit pollution as well, but the skies are still chock full of aerosols and other nasty stuff. At least the communist government has been forced to acknowledge the pollution recently. That is the first step in cleaning things up. They are also trying to promote more electric vehicle usage, which is a good thing.
Despite some rose-colored-glasses-reporting about the Kyoto Protocol, the fact is that the world still runs on oil and emissions have increased since 1997 and 2005. Leaving emerging economies out of the Protocol was a mistake, if they wanted it to succeed. Of course, some cynics would say that the true motive was to transfer wealth from rich countries to poorer ones and this has occurred to some degree. Some present climate negotiators have even truthfully said as much, that future agreements will be transfer of wealth agreements.
Given the increasingly interconnected world that we live in, it doesn’t make sense for some countries to be left out of future agreements. We need bring people together, persuade together, and cooperate on win-win solutions in order to fight pollution. Carrying around a “big government stick” just breeds more resentment.
Besides, governments of the world have failed in environmental policy and corrective action. That is the assessment from many leading environmentalists. They say that governments have done almost nothing to stop pollution in the years since Kyoto was signed. I could have easily predicted that! I am glad the environmental groups have finally seen the light and are going to (hopefully) come to the people directly with a more cooperative win-win attitude in the future.
The one refreshing thing I read out of the article (environmentalists griping about the government), is that more of them are talking about population control. That is one thing that has been missing from the discussion all these years. I am not talking about forced population control through sterilization or child quotas, just gentle persuasion toward people to put off having kids. If there is one thing that would cure pollution problems faster than anything else, it would be a declining world population. For some strange reason, environmentalists have not touched this subject much in the past. Maybe we will see more of it in the future.
While declining population would be a positive trend for a cleaner environment, it would not be good for traditional growth-defined economies, economic models, and nation states. That is why some countries are officially trying to persuade people to have more kids. Japan is considering offering more free goodies to people who marry and start families. France just flat out pays people to have more kids. So the next time you see a news article about France or Japan being more environmentally conscious than the U.S., just remember that they are purposefully trying to boost the population. Of course, in the U.S. people do get welfare/and tax breaks based on family size, but it is just a perverse illogical system, not a defined governmental policy to expand the population.
Of course, in the end, the best way to have a cleaner environment without heavy regulation and population control, would be to invent our way out of the trouble. This is what humans have always done. It is what we are best at. And, I am glad to see progress to that end on a daily basis. I often report on technological breakthroughs here in the blog.
Have a good Thursday! Meteorologist Justin Loew
This post was written by jloew on February 16, 2012