Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues under-reported in mainstream media for release June 12, 2007
Distributed by Squeaky Wheel Productions
Interview with Ross Gelbspan,
journalist and author,
conducted by Melinda Tuhus
Listen in RealAudio:
On May 31, President George Bush proposed for the first time during his administration setting “a long-term global goal” for reducing carbon emissions, after six years of ignoring the problem or calling for more studies. The president’s proposal calls for a set of international talks to discuss voluntary, not mandatory, compliance, focusing on reducing emissions 50 years and more into the future, rather than on what can be done right now.
The timing of his announcement was tied to the G-8 summit meeting of leading industrial nations in Germany, from June 6-8. But the president’s climate change proposal was met mostly with criticism from other world leaders and environmentalists.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Ross Gelbspan, author of “The Heat is On” and “Boiling Point,” two books that detail the problems associated with global climate change and propose a way forward. He discusses the relationship between the developed and developing nations regarding carbon emissions, and finds hope in an unlikely sector of American society.
ROSS GELBSPAN: Basically, I think what the president has done is, he has come out with a proposal that is extremely vague and has no targets and timetables, to gather 15 countries the worlds largest emitters, most of which are developing countries, including India and China and so forth, but also Australia, which is the worlds largest coal producer into some kind of a separate agreement theyre going to work out in the next couple years. What I see this as is a very, very direct attempt to sabotage the United Nations. The UN is really the body that has sort of mediated and moved forward on this issue.
The Kyoto Protocol is under an agency that is essentially under the guidance of the UN. So what I see the president doing is trying to undermine the UN, which he has done in lots of other arenas as well. Therefore, I think its not only not helpful, I think its very destructive in terms of the international communities trying to find some kind of consensus on this. Its really important to understand this has to be done by countries all over the world by a certain deadline. The science is telling us we need to cut emissions by 80 percent globally in the next 40 years or so. The climate is changing much, much faster than scientists thought even five years ago.
A lot of scientists are saying we are either at or beyond a point of no return in terms of really disruptive climate impacts. And what I see the president doing is essentially driving a wedge thats trying to peel off part of the countries, its trying to weaken the will of the UN, it very much goes against what Tony Blair has been doing, what Angela Merkel has been doing, what the G-8s been doing.
BETWEEN THE LINES: The developing nations were exempt from having to meet any timetables or reach any specific reductions under the first Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012. What role should they be encouraged or required to play going forward, since this group of nations, including India and China, will soon overtake the developed nations in their release of carbon emissions.
ROSS GELBSPAN: Well, the Kyoto Protocol, the way it was written, it exempted developing countries from the first round of cuts. And in fact the first President Bush, who oversaw the Rio treaty under which Kyoto was developed, approved of that. And the reasoning was very simple: We in the North have created the problem; we in the North have the resources to begin to address it; we in the North need to take the first steps and the rest of the world will come along. So, that was essentially a deliberate and universally approved exemption of the developing countries from the first round of carbon cuts. I must tell you that the developing countries would like nothing more than to make this transition. It’s developing countries that are hit first and hardest by climate impacts, because they dont have the infrastructure to buffer the impacts of intense rainfall and droughts and severe storms and so on. Moreover, the most air-polluted cities in the world are in China and Bangkok, Thailand, and Santiago, Chile and Mexico City and so forth. So, all these countries would love to go clean energy. Their coal and oil diet is creating a lot of lung disease and acid rain and air pollution and so forth.
The problem is, it’s too expensive; they simply can’t afford it. So what really needs to happen and one of the things I’m pushing in some solutions at the end of my book in Boiling Point. I’ve been talking to lots of diplomats and officials about, is a program to transfer clean energy to poor countries. And were they to be given the wherewithal to do that, I think there would be no resistance whatsoever. I also think there would be a huge economic benefit. It’s sort of an article of faith among development economists that every dollar you put into energy in developing countries creates way more jobs and way more wealth than the same dollar invested in any other sector of their economies.
So if the U.S. were to spearhead a move to transfer clean energy to poor countries, that would create millions of jobs in poor countries. It would really turn impoverished and dependent countries into trading partners. It would give people in continental interiors the wherewithal to start local businesses and grow indigenous industries and begin to engage the global economy not as beggars but as trading partners. So there really is an economic upside as well as a statutory obligation here.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Do you see that happening at any point What would it take, besides a new administration, to realize that vision.
ROSS GELBSPAN: I guess one major hope I see comes from the military in the U.S. There was a report issued by a number of four-star admirals and generals a couple of months ago that basically said climate change is the overriding security threat to the U.S. and to world stability even more so than international terrorism. And the military is taking this stuff very, very seriously. In particular, they’re aware of what will happen when we have crop failures in developing countries; increased water scarcity that well see; and a lot of chaotic kind of migration as peoples move away from areas that suffer severe climate impacts and begin to create lots of problems in countries into which they’re migrating.
BETWEEN THE LINES: That’s interesting, because just last week on Between the Lines I interviewed Michael Klare about the tremendous negative impact the military has in generating greenhouse gases, in general, but disastrously during wartime.
ROSS GELBSPAN: I think they are in an R&D phase, and I think they are looking at a lot of other options of non-carbon energy use and so forth, but its clearly not here yet, it hasnt been properly developed, but I do know its on their minds for sure.
Ross Gelbspan had a 30-year career as a journalist before turning to writing books on global warming. For more information, visit his website at www.heatisonline.org
Related links: Bill McKibben’s Step It Up campaign website can be found at http://www.stepitup07.org
Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending June 15, 2007. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo. Listen to the rest of this week’s Between The Lines news program at http://www.btlonline.org/btl061507.html.
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