‘Bring on the heatwave….’ by guest writer Katja Oestreicher
Since the USA refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, Russia’s signature has become vital to the treaty’s ratification.
Two weeks ago, just before Putin bailed out another extension for their decision, the Russian Academy of Sciences gave the Russian president the official advice that the “Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse gases has no scientific basis and puts the Russian economy at risk.”
In other words, the world’s leading scientists on climate change got it all wrong.
But what’s that about the Russian economy? Could it be – in any possible way – connected to Putin’s plan of doubling the gross domestic product in the next 10 years?
Putin, the good soul, always anxious to please those nagging environmentalists: “At least fur coats would become redundant with the advent of global warming.” Great. Millions of seals are pissing themselves laughing. What’s the small drawback of losing your natural habitat and facing extinction compared to ending as a fur coat? You can always join a circus or apply for residence in your local zoo. Just think of the air conditioning…
US policy seems to be informed by the same world view. In the George C. Marshall Institute’s Policy Outlook (titled rather amusingly: “Climate Policy and Energy Use and Objective Realities”) in June 2003, its president William O’Keefe reported: “The only way to achieve a big absolute reduction in emissions is through a substantial reduction in economic activity. […]That simply is not politically realistic nor desirable for growing populations seeking to increase their standards of living. It is not possible to achieve desired levels of economic growth and simultaneously use less energy.”
Twenty years ago, the world would have cheered to see Russia and the USA finally agree on something. Now the EU is desperate to offer Russia financial incentives to secure their signature. Funny, how things change.
But why exactly are both the US and Russia so keen to ignore the rather likely effects of global warming and continue their cancerous economic growth? Most other nations have signed the Protocol, seem to accept the urgency and importance of reducing CO2 emissions and willing to do their bid in at least slowing the anticipated climate change. Not so the US, home to 4 to 5% of the world’s population and responsible for a gobsmacking 25% of total greenhouse gas emissions.
Again, economic factors (or shall we call it Intense Corporate Lobbying?) dominate US policy. The Pew Center of Global Climate Change found that the USA as a whole has a high capacity to adapt to anticipated climate change. Further US research established that low to moderate global warming would cost approximately 1% of the GDP. Costs for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol would take up between 1% and 4.2% of the GDP. (Dan Whipple, United Press International, 17th May 2004)
Well, in that case, it’s all just too good to be true: Russia will leave the seals alone and the US will only sacrifice one per cent of their GDP. So what’s all that moaning about climate change? Burn more fossil fuels, bring on the heatwave! Global warming rocks!
The Day after Tomorrow
Or does it? Projected changes in the climate are more “heat waves over nearly all land areas”, risk of droughts and floods, increased intensity of storms, more intense precipitation events. Amongst the projected impacts are increased “incidence of death and serious illness in older people and urban poor”, “heat stress in livestock and wildlife”, “flood, landslide and avalanche damage, soil erosion and risk of infectious disease epidemics” (“Caring for Climate: a guide to the climate change convention and the Kyoto protocol”). Says the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s “Summary for Policymakers”: “Overall, climate change is projected to increase threats to human health, particularly in lower income populations, predominantly with tropical/subtropical countries.”
Swell! The US and Russia really are on the safe side – at least geographically! What do they care about tropical/subtropical countries?! Why does Europe care? Let’s get back to work on that Gross National Product! Growth, growth and another growth, that’s what we need!
Neither the US nor Russia seem to be unduly worried about the lower income populations who will face the brunt of the damage. After all, do they worry about Gross National Product? Not one bean! In fact, all the beans they find (note: not buy!) they shove into their own mouths – greedy bastards.
So the gap between rich and poor, that already clefts like the yawning abyss, will invariably continue to widen. Chances of achieving a world wide balance, economically as well as ecologically, are dwindling by the day. As long as the USA, only remaining super power, continue their policy of growth and greed, they will continue to choke the rest of the world (bar whom they consider an ‘ally’ at their mercy) under the growing shadow of gloom they cast. And, looking at the news, there is no sign of any change in agenda. As Bush is preparing for the next elections, the CIA gets cleaned up to restore public confidence in their president and his intelligence service. Oil is stocked and hoarded, no matter how much the price rises world wide.
But the policy of greed doesn’t stop at global issues. After all, good US citizens are expected to contribute to the annual growth of the GNP, and so demand and thereby revenue must be created.
And what do we get? Cancer. What a symbol of our times. Day after day, we shove fast food, sweeteners and additives down our throats, inhale poisonous fumes, wear clothes coloured with carcinogenic dyes, and are constantly exposed to substances that have irreparable effects on our health. But we have to! We have to! The state has to increase the GNP, and the companies have to increase their annual turnover. Disastrous, should the economy suffer!
So we buy and we buy. The adverts and magazines tell us what we need, and we follow like lamb to the slaughter. Our body has long ceased to be temple, it is a slave to the growing GNP. Don’t be fooled by the fitness studios, the botox, the beauty farm. They’re much better sources of revenue than relaxation, health or beauty.
And so, parallel to the economy, our bodies grow: Obesity has become a significant health problem, particularly in the US, but also in Europe. Reports BBC news: “Obesity ‘becoming top US killer’ – a new study in the United States says obesity is likely to become the country’s biggest preventable killer.” The report cites a study by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention that revealed that “poor diet and lack of exercise caused 400,000 deaths in the US in 2000.”
There have been increasing calls for bans on fast food advertisements, but the US government rather advises the population to exercise a little more. Well, of course! Decrease in MacDonald’s’ turnover will also affect the precious GNP. So eat, good citizen! Eat! We’re a growing nation!
But don’t worry, humble disciple bowing to your Great God GNP: cancer treatment, drugs for the clinically obese, it’s all in the can, science can do it all. But as the case of Abbott Laboratories illustrates, those lifesavers come at a cost. In December 2003, they raised the price for ritonavir, a drug used to treat AIDS, for which they hold the patent (although it was developed with government funding), by 400%. From one day to the next.
That seems to be what the economy is all about: first you pay them for making you ill, then they’ll offer you a cure, but only to squeeze more money out of you. And this is what William O’Keefe calls “healthy levels of economic growth” in his report.
Healthy for whom? Who still profits from this growth, if the climate is warming, our planet irretrievably changes, and humans are suffering world wide, either from under- or from overdevelopment?
Take a closer look at those trainers on your feet and the burger in your hand…