Monday, February 05, 2007

Underwhelming Overtures

So it seems that, even if the Bush administration is not getting the message, certainly the business community is sitting up and taking notice of global warming:
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Proposals in the revived Doha Round of free trade talks could help protect the environment if governments agree to a deal at forthcoming negotiations, the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) said on Monday.

Measures to cut farming and fisheries subsidies will stop overproduction while others will lower tariffs on environmentally sound goods and services, Pascal Lamy said on the fringes of a major U.N. environment meeting in Kenya.

"These are not just speeches, they are very concrete proposals to really help," he told Reuters in an interview.

Lamy had earlier told hundreds of delegates the WTO would be at the forefront of encouraging sustainable development, especially in the world's poorest countries.

It was the first time a WTO leader had attended the U.N. Environment Program's Governing Council meetings, and his attendance was hailed by environmental campaigners.
Key phrase of course is "if governments agree", but it's a step.

The Doha Round referred to is an attempt to lower tariffs worldwide, thus increasing the freedom to trade with nations. Naturally, the EU and the US are on one side of this issue against nearly the rest of the world, which wanted the rich countries of the Northern hemisphere to stop subsidizing agriculture, among other things. The Northern hemisphere bloc wants import subsidies (you may remember this as the way Japan dumped microchips into the US during the 80s by subsidizing their export, ensuring no Japanese firm lost money) dropped in exchange, as well as tariffs on manufactured goods.

So how does this play out for global warming? Let's go back to this paragraph for a moment:
Measures to cut farming and fisheries subsidies will stop overproduction while others will lower tariffs on environmentally sound goods and services, Pascal Lamy said on the fringes of a major U.N. environment meeting in Kenya.
In other words, there will be less incentive for developing nations to go the route of industrialization that the developed nations went through, burning fossil fuels and such until they develop technologies that will speed them into the 21st century. Ideally, under this commitment, developing nations will leapfrog by allowing environmentally sound manufactured goods (clearly from the EU and Japan, because God knows the US isn't making this stuff), and in exchange will receive the right to sell their cheaper (and likely more environmentally farmed) produce to the north.

We hope. There's a hidden white elephant to this proposal: already, developing nations are destroying thousands of square miles of natural habitat a day for subsistence and developing nations' trade. What will happen when suddenly, for example, the US opens its borders to Brazilian soy beans or corn?

Still, it's a step in the direction of talking about the problem, along with some other key stories from the past few weeks:
LONDON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Insurers, which pay out billions of dollars each year on natural disasters, welcomed the publication on Friday of a hard-hitting warning by the U.N. climate panel that human activities are heating the planet.

[...]For insurers, who invest huge sums in conducting their own research into climate change, the report's findings came as no surprise.

But the industry, around one-third of whose overall claims are from weather-related natural disasters, hopes the report will galvanise governments into doing more to combat accelerating global warming.

Insurers paid out over $83 billion on damages from a string of U.S. hurricanes in 2005, making it the costliest year in the industry's history.
Not only insurers are concerned, though. Some of the heavy-hitters are starting to take a close look at it:
CHICAGO, Dec 13 (Reuters) - The topic of the conference was climate change and the rhetoric was sobering, haunted by scientific projections of a roasted world for our children and a looming environmental disaster of Biblical proportions.

But this was no talk shop of environmental activists. It was a meeting of Wall Street investors, insurance executives, state treasurers and pension fund managers, who between them manage about $3.7 trillion in assets.

"The insurance industry has historically taken on social issues. I know of no social issue that is bigger than this one," said Tim Wagner, director of insurance for the state of Nebraska.

The consensus of Wagner and others addressing the conference of the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR) was that institutional investors are still too near-sighted to factor climate change into their investment decisions.
The problem with this, of course, is it may be too little, too late. Based on the science revealed at the conference, that seems to be more and more likely. Until the money guys start taking this stuff seriously enough to alter their investment decisions, companies will never alter their individual behavior to suit the long term effects of global warming.

This is a serious flaw in the capitalist, democratic form of society: there's no overarching moral code that suggests when you can or cannot do something. The only guiding principle is, if you can make money at it, then do it. As the Bush administration has gutted any real chance of oversight for anything environmentally related, by (s)electing this living room gibbon for two consecutive terms, we've likely sealed the fate of humanity.