for China and India: at the very moment when their respective governments seem to have figured out how to lift millions of people out of grinding poverty, the principal mechanisms for achieving this —capitalism, industrialisation and the systematic exploitation of the natural environment—also so seem to be inescapably connected with the destruction of the complex eco system upon which we all depend. I can add nothing to the scientific discourse that revolves around such issues, but I can offer some observations on the politics of climate change. Rather depressingly, it seems to be business as usual: ExxonMobil have recently offered funding to scientists and economists who are willing to question the rapidly emerging consensus on climate change, while the Bush administration tries to stop people from actually talking about global warming at all. Given that the US produces about 25% of global CO2 emissions every year, and that not much happens in the international system without American support, then the Bush administration’s attitude has implications for everyone. In this context the record is, once again, rather deflating. The one attempt to actually do something at the international level to address global warming was effectively scuppered by the US when it refused to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol. While there was much talk at the time about equity, inclusiveness and the validity of the scientific arguments, the Bush administration was especially loathe to compromise what it took to be its own national strategic and economic interests. In this, of course, the US is not alone. All countries pursue their ‘national interests’, but what’s striking is how differently they can be conceived. While it is easy to be cynical about the influence of powerful business lobbies over the construction of American foreign policy, we should not lose sight of more fundamental drivers of national policy. In the US’s case, individual liberty, free enterprise and an overwhelming belief in economic development and personal progress have been central. Unfortunately, they are not easy to reconcile with the possibility that, not only might we have to abandon our ideas about the inevitability of material gain, but we
might have to do so on an internationallynegotiated and regulated basis. American political scientists and economists have played a prominent part in trying to understand the sort of ‘collective action’ problems that currently confront humanity. How do we stop countries from ‘free riding’, and not doing their bit to combat global warming? What are the best mechanisms for encouraging ‘good’ behaviour at the individual or state level? The idea that market forces might be part of the problem rather than the solution, or that American freedom of action and choice might have to be constrained in the interest of the global population, are unlikely to be easily accepted, much less prove vote winners. But there will be a new administration in the White House soon, and any new president could hardy be less sympathetic about attempts to address climate change through international cooperation. Equally importantly, American business is not monolithic, and bits of it are waking up to the problem of climate change—and to the possibility of making money from it. My guess is that neither of these developments will prove sufficient, and we will still need to develop—hitherto unimaginable, still rather unlikely— forms of cooperation and coordination if we are to get out of the predicament in which we collectively find ourselves. We may need, in fact, nothing less than the sort of paradigm shift that used to be much discussed a few years ago, but which seems to be out of fashion just when it’s most needed. It might not be out of the question though. After all, if the weather’s thoroughly unpredictable, why shouldn’t we be? Dr Mark Beeson is a lecturer in Politics at the University of York
For other articles on this subject see “Inequality is good for nothing but climate change” www.clubofpep.org/vox
Why Don’t We Change the World? Despite the common and not unfounded attitude that the world is falling apart at the seams, there is reason for optimism. Although there are social and political problems with modern societies, we, the citizens of those societies, are increasingly aware of these - 2 -
In this issue of VOX, topics covered include climate change, foreign aid and the raise of multination firms.