This week saw the end of yet another Earth summit (Rio +20). For anyone who missed it, I’ll summarise by saying, everybody said how important the environment is….indeed its so important that we’re not going to do anything to save it …other than make some vague open ended and non-committal statements!
Indeed it was telling that neither David Cameron, nor Obama or any other leading heads of state showed up. I mean even George Bush Snr and John Major, hardly the sort of people whom we could describe as “fluffy lefty environmentalists”, had at least the decency to show up to the original Rio conference. Although Bush did make that speech about how “the American way of life is not negotiable”.
But I think this lack of attendance should tell you how low the “environmental agenda” has slid in terms of the priorities list of world governments. Indeed I find it laughable that many right-wingers can make out “global warming” as being all a con as part of some lurid lefty conspiracy. Don’t you think if we wielded that much power we’d make sure world leaders showed up at an Earth Summit?
Indeed, as Jon Steward attempted to do a while ago, its interesting to compare the environmental score card of different US presidents. To be blunt, Obama would not rate very highly. He scores few postives and has done little to halt Shale gas or Tar sands extraction (see Keystone pipeline). Nixon would easily top the poll (yes really!) as America’s most environmentally friendly (most notably introducing the Clean Air Act ) and then Carter (famously put solar panels on the white house roof). Reagan and George Bush Jnr would be fighting for worse place (Reagan famously took Carter’s solar panels down and presided over a neo-liberal free for all of America’s fossil fuel resources, one only matched by GBW record).
But oddly enough George Bush Snr does rates higher than Obama . Aside from showing up at the 1992 Rio conference, he made some commitments towards carbon dioxide emissions reductions and also banned certain classes of single skinned tankers from US waters as a response to the Exxon Valdez spill (all we got out of Obama post-Deep Water Horizon was a lot of photo op’s and bluster).
Now again, I’m not suggesting that Bush Snr or Nixon were a pair of tree hugging environmentalists. Certainly Obama would be better than Romney or any other Republican party candidate (many of whom “don’t believe in global warming“…or evolution…or gravity one assumes!).
But my point is that Bush (snr) and Nixon came from a different era of politicians. Who recognised that even though they did not consider the environment as an important issue, they also recognised that millions of the voters whom they represented did regard it as important and they therefore they had to do something. And making vague polemic speeches and photo ops wasn’t considered sufficient.
By contrast we now seem to be in an era where we have politicians who do regard the environment as important, the vast majority of citizens agree, the evidence in support of global warming and the enormous harm caused by environmental degradation is both overwhelming and alarming. But because of a small number of right wing dickheads, we’re somehow not allowed to do anything about it.