Friday, July 27, 2007

An Inconvienent Al Gore

I have begun to grow weary of the global warming debate. Although I sincerely enjoyed Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and accept the fact that we are doing serious and possibly irreversible damage to the environment and that if we don't change our ways soon, it may be too late, I have problems with how the whole global warming debate has shaped up.

Initially, the global warming debate seemed to be a proxy for the debate about whether the US should ratify the Kyoto Protocols. The Protocols strike me as a relatively common sense measure designed to reduce highly polluting gases which may contribute to the Greenhouse effect. The Protocols don't seem to be particularly onerous with the main problem being that developing countries which large populations like India and China don't have the same restrictions as already developed countries. So if anything the problem with the agreement is that it is too lax, not too strict. Therefore, I didn't really have a problem with the environmentalists and politicos like Al Gore playing the "global warming card"--the science is solid enough and the Kyoto Protocols are worthy political goal.

The right's predictable response has been to attack the science and the film in a very typically "Fox News Logic" fashion. First you imply that environmentalists and Al Gore are wackos and crazed anti-American liberals. Then you proceed to come up with counter-evidence which "proves" that their science is faulty and thus confirms your premise. The debate has become less about the environment or pollution than about Al Gore and the science presented in an Inconvenient Truth--which creates the first problem of the global warming debate. Global warming has gone beyond whether or not the US should ratify the Kyoto Protocols, it unfortunately has become a substitute for debating about the environment and humanity's impact on it. If conservative think tanks can come up some scientists that think that global warming is based on faulty evidence then the whole environmentalist movement must also be sham.

Although I don't think that this was Al Gore's intention, I began to wonder about Al Gore's agenda and to think about what, if anything, might be at work here. One thing that made me pause is the recent media blitz by BP and other energy companies emphasizing their pro-environmental inclination (BP apparently now means "Beyond Petroleum" in case you didn't know.) Then about two months ago I read a piece by Alexander Cockburn called "Is Global Warming a Sin?" (Counterpunch, April 28) and an ensuing debate between him and George Manbiot (published online at Zmag and Counterpunch).

Anyone who has read Cockburn knows he is no friend of liberalism and is one of its harshest critics, but from the left. Cockburn's argument, which makes a lot of sense, is basically as follows--Al Gore has been a corporate shill for his entire political career, so for him to support enviro-friendly and anti-corporate policies is out of character. What is in character is to embrace the same fear mongering that brought us the Cold War and the War and Terror, but now with the enemy of carbon emissions. Who will benefit from this? Energy companies that are prepared to gorge at the trough of government sponsored energy research and development which won't actually clean up the environment but will underwrite the profits margins of large corporations as they transition to nuclear or some other non-carbon based energy source. In other words, developing policies to stop global warming is a political maneuver to get the American public to subsidize corporate energy needs while thinking they are protecting the environment.

So what to make of all this. Is Al Gore just making up global warming to line the pockets of corporations? Are all the scientists that support the global warming theory corporate shills? Well, I don't think so. George Manbiot's responses do a pretty good job of establishing that well respected environmental scientists do believe that global warming is real and a product of human activity to a significant extent. Those who disagree are definitely out there, but at the margins. But, does that mean that we should accept uncritically whatever policy comes down the pike to solve the problem? Does that mean that we should let the global warming debate monopolize the debate about the environment. Of course not. My greatest fear about the global warming debate is that Cockburn is essentially correct--that whatever solution emerges, it will be a false one that simply compels the public, once again, to subsidize the profit margins of companies, not for high tech weapons to beat the Soviets or for defense measures against terrorism, but to "save the environment."

I guess the moral is always beware of politicians bearing inconvenient truths with convenient and pro-corporate solutions.

1 comment:

Mark said...

I think Kyoto Protocols were a great big step in order to stop the climate change, but, as you said, they should me more rigid and strict. By the way, why do I have a viagra online banner on top of your headline?