By now, most people acknowledge the dangers of global warming and the need for the sort of collective action set out in the Kyoto accords. But some powerful corporations still hope to head off any such action. Having exhausted just about every other stalling tactic, they cling to the argument that Kyoto is flawed.
No doubt it is. Any international treaty is bound to be.
One problem is that the agreement doesn't cover some key countries like China and India. That's because it's we in the industrialized world who have caused the global warming problem so far. China and India would be brought in in future rounds.
Kyoto opponents, like Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, have argued that instead of an international accord we should have a "made-in-Canada" solution. It's refreshing to see Klein recognize Canada as an independent country, not an annex of Texas. But in this case, an international solution is absolutely necessary. Greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere aren't a national problem; they affect the Earth's entire climate system. This is a global problem requiring a coordinated global solution.
Kyoto's main opponents are huge corporations, led by Exxon-Mobil, which just reported a recording-breaking $25 billion annual profit. These corporate mega-giants have enormous sway over governments. From their viewpoint, then, it's ideal to leave the tackling of global warming up to individual governments.
Consider what's happening right now in Canada.
Ottawa has been trying unsuccessfully to get the auto industry to agree to tougher fuel economy standards for cars.
The industry protests that it's fighting similar regulatory attempts in California; giving in here would undermine its lawsuit against California's tough new law on vehicle emissions. All the better! Surely we want the industry to lose its lawsuit.
California has taken bold action on the global warming front, assuming a leadership role that the industry-cosy Bush administration refuses to assume. Canada, which has a market as big as California, could play a significant role here. Rather than letting the industry pick us off one by one, applying maximum pressure to each government, our governments should present a united front to bring foot-dragging industries to heel.
California's tough approach has won support from key northeastern states, including New York. With Canada's co-operation, these states could form a powerful bloc that would force the auto industry to improve fuel economy.
And improving fuel economy wouldn't be difficult. The technology already exists. But ever since U.S. government gave up requiring the industry to improve fuel economy back in the 1980s, automakers have instead put their technological advances toward other things — mostly toward creating ever-larger vehicles with ever-greater propulsion.
Thus we have the SUV.
Global warming may soon reduce life on Earth to a series of "constant battles for diminishing resources" — according to a 2003 Pentagon report — but at least people will have the choice of driving off-road in really cool-looking vehicles.
The other option would be for governments to work together to save the planet.
Linda McQuaig is a Toronto-based author and commentator.
Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited