Sunday, December 20, 2009

Obama Sham in Copenhagen

The “meaningful” climate change and poverty reduction deal announced by Obama at Copenhagen only includes four countries, provides no new money; and has an annual budget of one hundredth of annual global military spending and one forty-fifth of US annual military spending. Since poverty, hunger, flooding and climate change kill millions of times more people each year than terrorism; and since terrorism can’t be ended by massive military force; this is stupidity and irresponsibility on a grand scale. ‘Political realities’ like public opinion can be changed by politicians who are actually leaders, congress-people can be persuaded too and lobbying by big firms can be ignored when the costs of caving in to it are numbered in billions of lives. What can’t be changed is that if we continue on the same course people will die in even larger numbers than they already are in almost every country in the world.

Many people are left wondering how it can be that Obama claims to have got a “meaningful” climate deal when it doesn't include most of the G77 (non-aligned, or 'third world' countries) or the European Union (you know that big bit between Russia and the Atlantic you fought over and then garrisoned with soldiers for about the last century or so - you remember it). In fact the only countries it does include are the US, China, Brazil and India – four out of at least one hundred and ninety five and missing out two of the largest negotiating powers – the EU and Russia, not to mention Japan. The G77 called it the worst deal in history and say it will lock them into a cycle of poverty forever if it goes unchanged.

On top of that it has no legally binding force and it doesn't even fix a CO2 reduction target to avoid a catastrophic 2 degrees C temperature increase.

It provides a budget from the entire world of $100 billion (or one hundred thousand million) over the next decade ; or $10 billion a year for the entire world for poverty reduction and climate change measures - a fraction of the amount that the US alone spends on its military each year. The world spent an average of almost $1.5 trillion annually on military spending over the last decade (i.e one and a half million million) – over 100 times as much as the 10 billion earmarked to reduce poverty and climate change. The US alone spent about 41% of the world’s total military spending – or around 45 times what it’s ‘meaningful deal’ on climate change will provide from all countries involved.

Climate change and poverty and hunger kill millions of times the number of people each year that terrorism does - and military spending doesn't even prevent terrorism.

On top of that the $100 billion is almost all to come from existing spending and includes almost no new money whatsoever, as Joss Garman of Greenpeace points out.

What kind of a joke is this? I know a lot of people will say Obama is constrained by public opinion/congress etc - well if he's actually a political leader and not just a careerist he should be actively working to change public opinion and congressional opinion and do what's best for Americans and the rest of the world even if it risks losing him the next election.

There’s a great deal of talk of ‘political realities’ that have to be faced up to. This is nonsense. Public opinion is not an unchangeable fact like gravity. It can be changed by political leaders with the guts to actually persuade people to change their opinions, to lead rather than just follow existing trends. There is a lot of lobbying by big firms and a lot of donations by them to Presidential campaigns, congress-people, MPs and political parties. None of this obliges those politicians to just concede to the firms’ demands though.

None of it means they have no choice.The unchangeable fact is that people are dying as a result of poverty, lack of clean water and hunger. Climate change, especially increasing flooding, makes this worse. Bangladesh for instance already suffers flooding worse than New Orleans every year, with many drowned and far more killed by disease caused by flooding polluting drinking water.

In the Middle East and much of Africa droughts are developing. Even in many states in the US water supplies are being used at an unsustainable rate. Soon underground aquifers in Florida will be emptied of fresh water and sea water will flood in. California faces the same problem. In Jordan the aquifers are almost empty too and desert is spreading across Africa and the Middle East. In Kenya this year huge numbers of people died in droughts. Perhaps California and Florida will be able to afford water desalination and purification plants to solve this problem, if they’re lucky. Kenyans and Jordanians won’t and Bangladeshi’s certainly won’t be able to purify enough flood water or desalinate land in which crops won’t grow any more without massive aid from the wealthier countries.

So speeches made in a baritone voice by a President who can string a sentence together are all very well, but they are not a substitute for real, legally binding treaties, which, unlike Kyoto, must have the support of the whole world and must be met in practice.

As many of the demonstrators at Copenhagen point out it’s also impossible to have effective action to reduce deaths from poverty and climate change in the same economic system that led to Kyoto and the Credit Crisis. Deregulated free-market capitalism forces company directors to look to maximise profits this year and this quarter at any cost in the suffering or lives of others, or else their share-holders will replace them with someone who will, or their company will be put out of business or taken over by someone who does look for maximum profit now at all cost. This system will not allow significant reductions in short-term profits for the good of the majority, even if it leads to billions of avoidable deaths or the eventual extinction of the human race. It will not allow the wages of the poorest people in the world to increase, instead they are forced down. It won’t allow democracy if it leads to higher costs for the firms which rely on cheap labour in ‘developing’ countries – they must be forced down even if it involves backing a terrorist campaign of murder, torture and rape, as in Honduras and Haiti. It won’t allow the cost of environmental protection to interfere with maximum profits now either. Meanwhile Bangladeshis drown and many of the people of Haiti have been eating ‘cakes’ made of clay with salt to make their stomachs feel full as they die of hunger – and that was before the ‘credit crisis’ even began. They pay to eat these because they can’t afford actual food. The US government could have afforded to strengthen sea defences to prevent the flooding and to feed the poorest in America – the Bangladeshi and Haitian governments probably couldn’t afford to without massive foreign aid from wealthier countries even if they weren’t US backed dictatorships who couldn’t care less if most of their population slowly starve to death.

Mud cakes in Haiti - the staple diet of many starving people there

As Johann Hari points out the deal continues the ludicrous ‘carbon credit trading’ scheme begun at Kyoto, which results both in reductions in one country being met by increases in CO2 emissions in others – and involves many Enron style accounting tricks which mean emissions will actually increase while in paper they supposedly stay level or fall. Logging firms have even managed to get clauses accepted by many governments that count an area as a forest providing carbon credits even if most of the trees in it have been cut down.

Obama holds the most powerful position in the entire world. For him and for other heads of governments and ministers that power comes with a responsibility to do what’s best for everyone, not just what’s easiest to get through congress or easiest to make compatible with big campaign donations from big firms. If necessary that means making a deal even if it risks losing the next election, because billions of lives and our environment are more important than whether any single person wins or loses an election. That, by comparison, is trivial.

Meanwhile, if you want to give presents that will definitely be appreciated by the people recieving them this Christmas, have a look at the Oxfam unwrapped website, where you can give gifts to families struggling to survive all round the world.

No comments: