Paying for Climate Change

tags: climate change, global warming, Trump

Historian Stephen Macekura is an Assistant Professor of International Studies in Indiana University’s new School of Global and International Studies.

At a November U.N. gathering in Bonn, Germany, delegations from all countries party to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change met to hammer out technical details and assess progress to date. Much media attention, however, focused on the elephant who was not in most of the rooms there: the United States. Nearly six months after the Trump administration announced plans to withdraw from the Paris agreement, it was still unclear what the impact of Trump’s move would be. One New York Times headline put it: “As the U.S. Sheds Role as Climate Change Leader, Who Will Fill the Void?”

Implicit in the Times headline is the notion that the U.S. has been an effective leader in climate policy up until now. But at least when it comes to the critical issue of the costs associated with reducing carbon emissions and adapting to climate change, history does not bear that notion out. Though President Trump has been more brazen in his unwillingness to foot the bill, past administrations have rarely been willing to lead climate policy with their checkbooks.

After World War II, countries around the world pursued rapid economic growth. This was especially true of the so-called “developing countries” of the Global South, who viewed rapid development as a necessary response to a history of colonialism, exploitation, and an international order that favored wealthy industrialized countries over poorer agricultural producers.

At the same time, environmental activists in the U.S. and Western Europe worried about the ecological consequences of growth, linking the destructive aspects of development at home to decolonization and the push for development abroad. They feared that developing countries would experience rapid population growth, generate widespread pollution, and exhaust vital resourcse, sparking a global ecological crisis.

Environmentalists set their sights on the expansion of protected areas in the developing world, as well as more stringent regulation of pollution and natural resource extraction. But they struggled to persuade developing countries to take action. Those nations tended to view environmental protection as a scheme deployed by wealthy countries to undercut their development and impinge upon their sovereignty. Many in the Global South saw an unfair double standard: industrialization in wealthy countries, after all, had been fueled by dirty fossil fuels, resource extraction, and the relative absence of constraints on toxic chemical use. ...

Read entire article at Bunk History

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