The battle over global warming and low-carbon policies will not be decided over scientific issues. It will be determined by governments and law-makers on the basis of hard-nosed national and economic interests. This is where the green utopia for a low-carbon transition in the near future is likely to crash into the buffers.
As we get closer to the Copenhagen conference, the chances of a global climate agreement are fading rapidly. In fact, the probability of a Kyoto-style treaty with legally binding emissions targets are now close to zero as the gap between the developed and the developing nations has been growing ever wider.
The global economic crisis has rendered costly climate policies more or less untenable. It has become hugely unpopular among voters who are increasingly hostile to green taxes. The intriguing fact that the global warming trend of the late 20th century appears to have come to a halt has led to growing public scepticism about claims of impending climate catastrophe.
Carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes have turned into considerable liabilities for political parties and governments alike. A climate revolt among Eastern and central European countries has forced the EU to renounce its unilateral Kyoto-strategy. President Obama’s administration is struggling to push its cap-and-trade bill through the US Senate because senators of his own party, the Blue Dog Democrats, are opposed to proposals they fear as being too costly and too risky.
Developing nations are demanding financial support to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars (per year) in return for their support of a post-Kyoto climate treaty. In view of the astronomical demands made by China, India and Africa, Western governments and their voters are increasingly reluctant to agree to injurious obligations that risk weakening their economic competitiveness even further.
Perhaps the most critical factor for the growing scepticism in Europe is the vanishing strength of Europe’s centre-left and green parties, whose members were once among the most forceful climate alarmists. Labour and green parties throughout Europe have lost much of their popularity and support. Today, few have remained in positions of power.
The principles of fairness, technological progress and economic growth used to stand at the heart of social democratic governments. Advancing the interests of poor and disadvantaged members of society was essential to the popular appeal of social democratic and Labour parties. The centre-left have substituted these social democratic ideals for an environmental programme in which the rhetoric of saving the planet has taken priority over the principle of liberating the underprivileged and disadvantaged from poverty and dereliction today.
In effect, green policies are gradually pricing the working and lower-middle classes out of their comfort zone. Labour parties may sincerely believe that their utopian low-carbon plans will save the planet. But in the process they are destroying the very foundations of their political support and movement.
Benny Peiser is a social anthropologist and senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University