How Fair Is The Kyoto Accord?

They're meeting in Montreal Quebec, Canada for the next few days to discuss the Kyoto accord on climate control. I'm not about to get into the whole issue about global warming, except to say unless you want to be barbecued by the sun in the next twenty years you should think about doing something about it. What caught my eye was the list of countries that have not signed on. The fact that the U.S. hasn't signed shouldn't surprise anyone; Midwest coal and an oil company president (To be honest I'm surprised Canada did with our oil and mining industries, but than we always want to look clean on the international stage even it is only a pretence) virtually preclude them signing until the last lump of coal is fired or the last barrel of oil is extracted. No the two names that stuck out like accusatory fingers were India and China. The two biggest and fastest growing economies in the world and they haven't signed on to the climate control agreement. Obviously that's a worry because they are also the two most heavily populated countries in the world, which means they have more people potentially capable of producing green house gases. However before we start jumping up and down in fits of environmental self-righteousness a little perspective is in order. The first thing we have to consider is what the leading contributor to green house gases is, and the second is to look at the situation from their point of view. You know walk a mile in somebody else's footwear. Have you seen many pictures of down town Beijing or Calcutta, or any of the big cities in Mainland China or India? The most striking thing is the lack of personal vehicles with more than two wheels and a one-person power engine. What is the biggest single contributor to carbon dioxide emissions? The automobile. There is nothing like a hot humid summer's day in a big North American city during the onset of morning rush hour to give you an idea of how bad it can be. The city doesn't even have to be that big. I remember working in Toronto Ontario 14 years ago in the heart of downtown. My job started a little earlier than the rest of the world so I would get to watch them follow me in from where ever they started. We would go up on the roof of the building to have a smoke and a coffee as the rush hour traffic started to accumulate on the expressways and watch as the western sky along the horizon line turned brown. As the sun rose in the east it would illuminate the fumes rising from the exhaust pipes of the bumper-to-bumper crawling traffic. Nothing like a slow idling engine for spewing out noxious gases. By noon of course you couldn't see the smudge anymore, it was now dissipated over the whole city. My mother still lives in Toronto; she lives right in the heart of the city in fact. She loves the big city; the art galleries, the symphony, the opera and the museums; that's her world. However I was talking to her this past summer on the phone and she was wondering about living there. She said it was so bad, that walking down the street a block could almost make her sick to her stomach the exhaust fumes were so bad.. Southern Ontario had one of its worst summers for smog warnings this past year. Our first air quality warning came as earl as April, and this was followed during the worst of the heat waves with twenty-three days in a row of air quality alerts. In my small city of 116,000 they anticipated 60 deaths due to air quality. We have no heavy industry but we are down wind of Toronto and are one of the most humid cities in Canada; a sure fire combination for bad air. So when I see a picture of a massive city like Beijing with the majority of people still pedaling their way to work I don't get quite the massive worry about how much greenhouse gas they are contributing to our atmosphere. I'm sure that will change in the future. Economic prosperity leads to the desire for symbols of status, and nothing says status like a car. India is already experiencing that with Mumabi already reporting over three hundred new car licence requests on a monthly basis. Given the state of the infrastructure, with old roads not designed for the automobile, they may soon start experiencing the same sort of gridlock that we do. That's what we need to be planning for, that day in the not so distant future when they begin to reap the rewards of their economic prowess in terms of material rewards. This is where we need to start looking at the world from their point of view: a point of view that has been shaped by years of being treated as an inferior. For far too many years both China and India were subservient to other masters. Both gained their independence in the first half of the twentieth century. China went the direction of becoming a closed country, retreating behind the veil of communism and pretty much relegating its people to a feudal status. India on the other hand was the recipient of plenty of foreign investment, companies that would take advantage of cheap labour, and a desperate people to get the best deals possible. India's wake up call came when a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal leaked toxic gases into the environment. In typical foreign ownership behaviour they fought tooth and nail against giving any significant compensation to the people of the surrounding area. Just as both countries, India and China, are finally starting to build their industries and look like they actually maybe challenging the more established countries, they are being told that they can't act like we did. We're changing the rules of the game so they don't have the same advantages our economies did when they took giant leaps forward in the post war boom period. It must look pretty hypocritical for a lot of the developing world to be lectured on being environmentally sensitive after being raped for so many years by these same countries. Oh fine they must be thinking, it was okay for you to do what was ever necessary to get your economies up and running, but not for us. Well sorry if we don't like that idea, we need to put all our money into getting businesses started not worry about anything else. If, on top of this, they see that the United States hasn't signed on, the world' biggest economy and the one everyone has to compete against, then they figure why should they, and how can they. Without extra money coming in from somewhere they know they'll never be able to compete if they have to do things for climate control that American companies don't. Its hard to convince a people who are desperate to pull themselves out of poverty, I'm not talking about just India and China here, that they have to spend even more money they don't have on anti emission devices, filters, and alternative fuels when none of our economies were so restricted in the beginning. If we are serious about combating global warming, than we have to endeavour to assure the developing world of assistance in achieving the goals established by the Kyoto accord. We helped put them in the hole they started in; the least we could do is help them climb out without poisoning themselves.


Post a Comment

<< Home