Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thanks George W. For Reducing America's GHG Emissions by Seven Percent

While we're at it, we should thank him for reducing the green house gas (GHG) emissions for the entire OECD in 2009 as well. Hell, if it weren't for India and China, global emissions would be down. According to the latest research, the drop in emissions in the OECD was entirely offset by the rise in the Asian giants. Too bad they aren't in our economic sphere.

At first it may seem strange to associate the name of George W. Bush with environmentally friendly economic policies. It's certainly a case of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. The former American President was loathe to enact any environmentally progressive legislation for fear that it would hurt the economy.

Ironically, it was his unwavering belief in free market economics that paved the way for the onset of the Great Recession and the subsequent decline in economic activity that accounts for the drop in GHG emissions. Perversely, by pursuing the politics of maximizing economic growth at the expense of environmental degradation, the Bush regime actually plunged the developed world into recession and applied the brakes to the underlying cause of global warming: high-carbon economic activity. Talk about unintended consequences.

This raises a fundamental question: could the equivalent reductions in GHGs have been obtained in an intentional manner? I think not. Our ideological commitment to ever increasing economic growth would not allow us to reduce economic activity. As a result,
although we may have reduced the energy intensity of each unit of GDP, overall emissions would have continued to rise.

So, what lies in store for us as we live through what will probably be the hottest year on the planet since records have been kept?

There is the possibility that we will have more of the same. In the Anglo-American sphere, economic policy is moving toward imposing austerity measures in Canada, the UK, and the United States. This could spell economic disaster for the champions of economic growth. As the Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, has pointed out, cutting public expenditures while the economy has yet to recover and record levels of unemployment still exist might have the effect of tipping the global economy into a protracted depression.

From an mainstream economic view, this scenario represents an unmitigated disaster. However, from the perspective of the planet, a lengthy period of slow or no economic growth could effectively cap the levels of GHG emissions while allowing us to retool for a low carbon economy. In fact, last year was the second consecutive year in which investments in the development of renewable energy sources outstripped the investments in the development of fossil fuel resources in the US and the EU. If these two trends continue, a scenario could arise in which the return to economic growth could be accompanied by a reduction of GHG emissions as more of the renewables come on line.

Perhaps, unbeknownst to the proponents of neoconservative economics, they could put into place further economic policies that would have the perverse effect of being beneficial to the environment.

Maybe, the invisible hand is connected to a being that has an ironic sense of humor.

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