So for the past three weeks I have been walking around in a bit of a daze wondering where the hell we go from here. I am old enough to remember the hippies working themselves into hysterics about how the rise of multinational corporations would eventually erode the power of government. That day came and went decades ago but this latest paralysis of global governance has truly rendered me gobsmacked.
To backtrack three weeks, the G8 summit was a crashing disappointment in two vital areas: it did not make firm promises related to C02 emissions, and it failed to live up to its earlier agreement to help Africa.
German chancellor Angela Merkel did manage to get her target of a 50 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 into the final document. The only problem is that the target isn’t enough, and certainly not soon enough. Moreover, the document is just that: a paper. There is no binding agreement anywhere to be seen. The next meeting is in Bali in December and some pundits say that binding agreements may be reached there.
But even binding agreements mean nothing to this group. Witness their total failure to live up to their commitment to help Africa, reached at the last G8 summit. While the G8 leaders’ promise of $60 billion sounds pretty terrific, aid agencies point out that only $3 billion is new money. The rest is simply the reiteration of a promise made two years ago — that they did not fulfill.
So that’s where we’re left: no firm commitment or targets to combat global warming and no confidence in the ability of these countries to fulfill their commitments even if they are made.
Meanwhile, some corporations are starting to take action where government has failed. British Petroleum, for instance, is like a crazed squirrel in its search for ways to diversify its energy sources. Google, which I have never thought of as a big emitter of C02, has adopted an aggressive campaign to reduce its carbon footprint, seek out alternative energy sources and, where it cannot reduce carbon emissions, make up for it by investing in innovative ways for others to reduce carbons, like plug-in cars.
Sounds good? Sounds like we can count on businesses to step in where government fears to tread?
Uh, no. Plug-in cars would be fine except that a heck of a lot of electricity is generated by coal. People are funny — we also think we might be able to keep driving as much as we like if we run our Hummers on canola oil instead of petroleum. But biofuels are actually hideously polluting and it will not help the carbon-oxygen balance if we deforest the rainforests to grow oil crops.
Nope, I suspect that the only way to head off a whole lot of disaster is to simply consume less and to pay the cost of purchasing goods from countries other than China (ie. that are not building four new coal-powered energy plants every week). But people like a deal. And a lot of people cannot afford to pay $300 for a pair of shoes. Maybe they could if those shoes were the only ones they had, but most of us do not live like that any more. And so we justify the cheap purchase from China, which now supplies a quarter of the world’s clothing and which is quickly becoming a major source of carbon emissions and other poisons. Will business stop us from making those purchases? Dream on.
And neither, obviously, can government.