The Post’s Self-Parody: Just Words

by William Yeatman on September 27, 2007

Here’s what we know: the climate-scold Europeans are increasing their carbon dioxide emissions at a faster rate than the purported rogue climate state, the US. They have also increased their CO2 emissions in greater volume than the US, at minimum over the past 6 years for which we all have official data (2000-2005). This is true not just for the EU-25, but the EU-15, which is “Europe” under Kyoto, and whose economy is smaller than the US, whose growth has lagged ours over the relevant period, and whose population increase has also not matched our own. [I will tally the various EU-15 and EU-25 performances when a schedule, which includes a new infant just brought home, permits].

This is very, very significant, and ever more so given the mythology that the EU perpetuates with assistance from the media about their supposed superiority and the horrible, unilateral US.

We also know that, despite these truths, the Washington Post is addicted to writing things like “The world’s understandable skepticism of the United States’ seriousness in dealing with climate change,” and the absurdity from yesterday. As the administration gears up to host a meeting for an approach very different from the failed Kyoto (failed in that no one new will join, after a whole decade of haggling, and no one is reducing emissions), the Post is pulling out all of its rhetorical weapons to pressure the US into shackling itself with a “binding” approach that, due to the curiosities of relative global legal systems, only we would actually be legally bound by. With today’s story, they have lapsed into self-parody.

Here’s the stew of evasions, double standards and outright hostility exclusive to the US that the Post offers its readers:

Although the piece is headlined “White House Taking Unearned Credit for Emissions Cuts”, the reader is left uninformed about these actual emission reductions, which are not otherwise mentioned, let alone discussed or put in the all-important context. Their only use is for the Post to say that these “reductions” (it’s actually just a reduction in the rate of growth to almost zero, though in the global context that is significant) – while still having never reported on them – are in spite of the Bush administration or otherwise just shouldn’t be associated with it. Possibly the Post is being consistent here, as it also never mentions that emissions grew much, much faster under Bill Clinton. Though the economic growth, well, that was his doing of course.

“The administration says it opposes ‘mandatory’ limits on greenhouse gases for the United States but is willing to back ‘voluntary’ limits and mandatory cuts on an industry by industry basis.” The Post doesn’t approve of this. (The “” marks are appropriate, by the way, as we shall see; one man’s voluntary is apparently another’s mandatory, or close enough, so long as that someone isn’t the US).

“‘We have a broad portfolio of measures, mandates, incentives and public and private partnerships,’ said James L. Connaughton, who chairs the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in an interview last week.”

Actually, that’s pretty much the whole world’s approach. But while that’s plenty good for them it’s not good enough here, because, as “British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s special representative for climate change, John Ashton, said yesterday [] self-imposed targets are not enough. ‘We need to make commitments to each other, not just to ourselves,’ Ashton said.” And by “we” he means the US. And commitments that would bind only us. With a risibly arbitrary baseline year to favor the Brits and Germans, who can collectivize their emissions to let the rest of Europe ride that gift. Separated by a common language, indeed.

Yet promises among nations is precisely what Bush seeks in his attempt to bring together the world’s top emitters, as opposed to the Kyoto/Post approach of insisting that, e.g., Burkina Faso and the Maldives, et al., be included, whose inclusion in Kyoto (as free-riders, like China, India, Mexico, and 155 countries) has ensured that pact became nothing but a wealth (and growth) transfer. But something so possibly sensible is not what the Post has in mind.

“In the rest of the world [sic], mandatory limits on global warming gases take the form of a cap-and-trade program that sets nation-by-nation ceilings on emissions. It was the system set up under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, modeled on a U.S. program to stop pollution that causes acid rain.” So, the rest of the world means 34 countries, which is how many Kyoto purports to “bind”, which is about 160 nations and most of its economic activity shy of “the world”. And readers who do not rely exclusively on the Post or New York Times know how Kyoto’s working out: an expensive, failed experiment to simply watch emissions continue to rise and rationalize one’s anti-Americanism.

Except that, upon scrutiny, the European Union is actually the only Party or Parties to Kyoto to have adopted that approach, so this is wonderfully revealing of the Post’s (rest of the) world view. Funny how George W. Bush seems to have a broader global horizon, what with all of the punch-lines and punches he’s taken. So, the Post merely uses cloudy language to tell us what is difficult to discern from their text: that is how the rest of the world views “mandatory” measures, if they are “binding” a la Kyoto.

Except that Kyoto is neither binding nor enforceable, shoddy reporting notwithstanding. Its Article 18 plainly states it could be made enforceable if the Parties amend it to be so. That was tried in Montreal in December 2005, and Canada and Europe teamed to block the move…yep, that Europe; or, should I say, “the rest of the world”? Article 18 is only one paragraph long, which is shorter than most pressure group media releases, so presumably even a journalist could read it. Unlike pretty much “the rest of the world”, thanks to our Supreme Court, however, the US would be the only country where pressure groups could march into court and demand that we comply with it, which otherwise remains “just words” (see below, for explanation of sneer quotes) for Europe, as their non-performance attests.

To dismiss Bush proposals and federalist positions (windmill conducive states should feel free to pursue windmill mandates) the Post cites, apparently with approval “‘These are just simply words,’ said Roland Hwang, the NRDC’s vehicle policy director.” OK, so “just words” is deserving of disapproval. And actual performance doesn’t deserve discussion.

So, one might ask, what does matter? Well, “just words”. That is, the Bush administration is mean for not doing something – actually, for opposing, for what that is worth – that which only Congress can adopt: the Kyoto Protocol (up to the Senate ever since it was signed on November 12, 1998…shoddy reporting to the contrary once again notwithstanding), and cap-and-trade legislation. Congress is finding the latter difficult to deal with because thieves tend to fall out, and all of the rent-seeking businesses picking up where Enron left off after the, ah, unpleasantness, can’t settle on whose scheme will choose which winners and losers, all of which schemes however which ultimately will fall on the ratepayer’s back. As Europe well knows and the Post ignores.

The Post is particularly duplicitous in advancing the rationalizations offered by Brazil and China as to why their approaches, which are decidedly not Kyoto’s cap-and-trade, are ok while our rather similar if far more effective – if actual emissions performance counted, which again it clearly does not – approach is not. First, of course, in China, everything is by definition mandatory; and Brazil is a country mandating massive use of ethanol derived from sugar, which ethanol is requiring the clearing vast swaths of rainforest to grow. Does the Post approve of our doing this in the least non-conducive to growing sugar here, say the Everglades and Southern swampland?

As Greenwire (password required) noted the delicate Chinese stance: “For example, China promoted their country’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency, renewables, reforestation and family planning. The world’s largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, according to some recent estimates, prevented 300 million births in its 1.3-billion person country since it developed a one-child policy in the late 1970s. That’s about 1.3 billion metric tons of avoided carbon dioxide emissions. And energy efficiency programs mean the country avoided releasing about 1.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxides, while growth in renewables cut 380 million metric tons of emissions.

‘Through all these measures, we’ve made our due contribution to confront climate change,’ said Xie Zhenhua, vice chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission.”

As regards Brazil, “Sergio Serra, appointed in April by Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as the country’s lead climate ambassador, ticked through biofuel and forestry programs that also have averted greenhouse gas emissions in his country.”

These approaches are not dissimilar to those of the US except that the US has slowed emissions growth to almost zero. Except for the one-child policy that is, although a cynic might note that, given that “Any child born into the hugely consumptionist way of life so common in the industrial world will have an impact that is, on average, many times [sic] more destructive than that of a child born in the developing world.” (Al Gore, EITB), might note that the US can similarly claim far, far greater “reductions” as a result of Roe vs. Wade. Though a purist must note that these are emissions avoided, not reduced.

Question: do the Post reporters even attend events that they purport to cover anymore?

Our neighbor to the south, by the way, noted the following “‘We are not and we will not be free riders in any regime that may be emerging out of the next negotiations,’ said Fernando Tudela, a top Mexican climate official. Mexico will weigh what sectors are ready for specific targets but will shy away from caps across the economy, he said.”

Sounds familiar, and that approach is called being a free-rider. I know it, because the Post tells me so about the US on a regular, shrill basis.

Here’s the Post’s reality: mere words are just bad, unless they’re from countries other than the US. Voluntary programs are bad, too, unless again we’re talking about someone else’s. Then, they actually are due for (repellent) praise or at least implicit approval. And voluntary programs aren’t mandatory unless you mean other countries under Kyoto. Actual emission performance, however, is so disproportionately a) contradictory to the rhetoric, and the Post’s own longstanding line, as to be b) embarrassing and c) unspinnable. As such, emissions – not words, semantics or double standards over mandatory or voluntary, etc. – shall not be discussed, but only elliptically alluded to.

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