Tag Archives: Global warming

You Have to Try

David Brooks asks:

We’re about to enter our 19th consecutive year of Truman-envy. Ever since the Berlin Wall fell, people have looked at the way Harry Truman, George C. Marshall, Dean Acheson and others created forward-looking global institutions after World War II, and they’ve asked: Why can’t we rally that kind of international cooperation to confront terrorism, global warming, nuclear proliferation and the rest of today’s problems?

Uhh, becauce for the last eight years we haven’t even tried?

Seriously, this isn’t that hard. The institution building of the 1990s was imperfect, to be sure, but it was at least somewhat successful. The WTO came into being in 1995 and has been quite successful in promoting global trade, not withstanding the collapse of the Doha round of trade talks. The treaty for the International Criminal Court was signed in 1998 and the Court was officially created in 2002. It too has been quite successful, providing an avenue for prosecution for war criminals like Charles Taylor. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum first met in 1993 and has provided a useful forum for dealing with Pacific Rim issues, even if it is still a little vague.

But since 2000, forward progress on international institution building has stopped. As Brooks notes, we have been unable to make progress on terrorism, global warming or nuclear proliferation. Why? Look no further than who occupied the White House. Bill Clinton actively tried to build forward looking international institutions and was at least somewhat successful.

When George W. Bush took office in 2001 he was actively hostile to international cooperation, especially in the areas that Brooks identifies. On Global Warming Bush unsigned the Kyoto Protocols which, while imperfect, were a valuable starting point. His administration then spent the next 6-7 years denying global warming and doing everything in its power to hold up international cooperation on the issue.

On nuclear proliferation Bush has been just as bad. Starting in 2001 it has actively undermined the nuclear non-proliferation regime. It publicly rebuked Colon Powell for saying the Administration would continue the Clinton policy on North Korea. It pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. It has pushed for the US to develop new nuclear bombs. In 2006 it signed a nuclear agreement with India, actively undermining the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It’s no wonder we haven’t gotten any new international cooperation on the non-proliferation front. The Bush administration hasn’t been interested in any.

Global terrorism is perhaps the most egregious of Brooks’ examples. In the aftermath of 9/11 there was a tremendous opportunity to create the institutions and norms for a global, united fight against terrorism. Yet the Bush administration utterly blew the opportunity. Instead of pushing for a new treaty to define the rights of terrorist suspects and international norms for dealing with them, a project that is sorely needed, the Bush administration decided to go it alone. They just ignored global standards like the Geneva Conventions and made up their own rules. Unsurprisingly, that hasn’t gone over too well with the rest of the world. Whereas Bush could have led a global push to deal with terrorism multilaterally, treating it as akin to piracy in that every country has an obligation to help stamp it out and any country has jurisdiction to prosecute it, but instead he decided to work around and ignore the patchwork international law on the subject. That isn’t even to mention going into Iraq while ignoring the UN.

While Brooks puts the dearth of new international organizations to deal with our pressing problems at the feet of multipolarity, the real answer is a lack of US leadership. In the post Cold War era some international organizations, notably the EU and WTO, have flourished. New institutions have been created. The ICC is still relatively new but has been surprisingly successful thus far, given the fact that the US refused to acknowledge its existence. Yes, power is more distributed now. But for the last 8 years we have had an administration that is actively opposed to such institution building. Is it any surprise new institutions haven’t flourished?

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Theater of the Absurd

From the Post:

· Al Gore‘s “An Inconvenient Truth” is set to finally saturate all media: Officials with Milan’s La Scala announced they have commissioned composer Giorgio Battistelli to turn the global-warming book/lecture/movie into an opera for their 2011 season. We were hoping for interpretive dance, but whatever.

How? Why?

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Using Waste Energy

This month’s Atlantic has a fantastic article by Lisa Margonelli about the huge gains in energy efficiency that the US economy could harness if industries recycled their waste energy, most of which is in the form of steam and heat. Apparently, 55% of the energy that the US uses is wasted, a truly shocking figure. It’s relatively cheap to do and allows companies to make money by selling the energy they create from waste steam, yet almost nobody is doing it. Why?

The first barrier is obvious from a trip through ArcelorMittal’s four miles of interconnected pipes, wires, and buildings. Steel mills are noisy, hot, and smelly—all signs of enormous inter­dependent energy systems at work. In many cases, putting waste energy to use requires mixing the exhaust of one process with the intake of another, demanding coordination. But engineers have largely been trained to focus only on their own processes; many tend to resist changes that make those processes more complex. Whereas European and Japanese corporate cultures emphasize energy-saving as a strategy that enhances their competitiveness, U.S. companies generally do not. (DuPont and Dow, which have saved billions on energy costs in the past decade, are notable exceptions. Arcelor­Mittal’s ownership is European.)

In some industries, investments in energy efficiency also suffer because of the nature of the business cycle. When demand is strong, managers tend to invest first in new capacity; but when demand is weak, they withhold investment for fear that plants will be closed. The timing just never seems to work out. McKinsey found that three-quarters of American companies will not invest in efficiency upgrades that take just two years to pay for themselves. “You have to be humbled,” Matt Rogers, a director at McKinsey, told me, “that with a creative market economy, we aren’t getting there,” even with high oil prices.

Some of these problems may fade if energy costs remain high. But industry’s inertia is reinforced by regulation. The Clean Air Act has succeeded spectacularly in reducing some forms of air pollution, but perversely, it has chilled efforts to reuse energy: because many of these efforts involve tinkering with industrial exhaust systems, they can trigger a federal or local review of the plant, opening a can of worms some plant managers would rather keep closed.

Much more problematic are the regu­lations surrounding utilities. Several waves of deregulation have resulted in a hodgepodge of rules without providing full competition among power generators. Though it’s cheaper and cleaner to produce power at Casten’s proj­ects than to build new coal-fired capacity, many industrial plants cannot themselves use all the electricity they could produce: they can’t profit from aggressive energy recycling unless they can sell the electricity to other consumers. Yet by­zan­tine regulations make that difficult, stifling many independent energy recyclers. Some of these competitive disadvantages have been addressed in the latest energy bill, but many remain.

A huge amount of energy has gone into promoting cap and trade or cap and auction schemes to reduce American carbon dioxide emissions, yet there has been almost no public attention paid to policies that would reduce the amount of energy wasted. Margonelli cites a study that argues that we could cut energy use and CO2 emissions by a full fifth just by recycling energy that would otherwise be wasted, which would go a long way towards huge reductions in carbon emissions that experts say are necessary to combat global warming. Implementing energy recycling would be a win, win, win policy, as it would allow us to reduce carbon emissions, reduce energy use while still allowing the companies in question to make money by selling their electricity back to the grid. Given the challenges we are facing, why aren’t people talking more about this?

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Can we Solve It?

Al Gore’s we can solve it ads are a great idea and seem promising in their ability to build consensus for global warming legislation. However, isn’t there something problematic about Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich appearing in an ad where they tell us that “if enough of us demand action from our leaders we can spark the innovation that we need.”

These people are our leaders. Nancy Pelosi is the second most powerful elected official in this county and is the most powerful Democrat. She leads a large and disciplined majority in the House of Representatives and her party controls the Senate as well. Newt Gingrich is an important and influential Republican who used to be Speaker. If these two “leaders” really wanted to make global warming legislation a top priority they certainly should be able to get things done. Are they really waiting for people to tell them to deal with global warming. Opinion polls already show that majorities think global warming should be a “high priority” for our government and almost everyone classify global warming as a major problem.

If Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich really think that global warming is a problem shouldn’t they be doing something more than cutting a TV ad?


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