November 28, 2011 · 0 Comments
Though writing about “the political economy of human rights” abuses, authors Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman strike a chord on international affairs in their book The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism when they write that when it comes to the mass media covering and providing information on important topics “much is disguised or withheld and analysis of the systematic and pervasive character of U.S. influence and intervention and its obvious roots in a domestic socioeconomic structure is spectacularly lacking.” This observation about the role of the media in serving power is, as we will see, applicable to environmental issues.
For example, in an article published today by the New York Times (NYT), John M. Broder manages to not inform us of many important things in his piece (“At Meeting on Climate Change, Urgent Issues but Low Expectations“). While he notes that
With intensifying climate disasters and global economic turmoil as the backdrop, delegates from 194 nations will gather in Durban, South Africa, starting Monday to try to advance, if only incrementally, the world’s response to dangerous climate change.
— “much is disguised or withheld and analysis of the systematic and pervasive character of U.S. influence and intervention and its obvious roots in a domestic socioeconomic structure is spectacularly lacking.”
An astute reader might wonder why Broder states such important actions will happen “only incrementally” but will not get much more than a general explanation that does more harm and good. We are told that
To those who have followed the negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change over their nearly 20-year history, the conflicts and controversies to be taken up in Durban are monotonously familiar: the differing obligations of industrialized and developing nations, the question of who will pay to help poor nations adapt, the urgency of protecting tropical forests, the need to rapidly develop and deploy clean energy technology.
Going back to Chomsky and Herman we learn that ”a semi-rational approach to international affairs, which relates prevailing phenomena to the existing distribution of power,” which is sorely needed, ”is excluded as unthinkable” when applied to the U.S. So the question is does the NYT relate the “prevailing phenomena” that is the UNFCCC’s inability to resolve the climate change issue and other “conflicts and controversies” “to the existing distribution of power”? Not really. We are told that “The negotiating process itself is under fire from some quarters, including the poorest nations who believe their needs are being neglected in the fight among the major economic powers.” But rather than address what it is about “the negotiating process” that is coming “under fire” from “the poorest nations” the matter is quickly buried and we move on to space being provided to the fact that “Criticism is also coming from a relatively small but vocal band of climate-change skeptics, many of them sitting members of the United States Congress, who doubt the existence of human influence on the climate and ridicule international efforts to deal with it.” At this point the criticism is akin to those who believe the Earth is flat, or that Apollo pulls the Sun across the sky each day. Worse, bringing up such nonsensical criticisms without even countering it with scientific data, or questioning the political and economic interests of these “climate-change skeptics” (i.e. their ties to the petroleum industry), only goes to empower them.
Another revealing example by the Times of not relating the “prevailing phenomena to the existing distribution of power” is noting that “having entered the United Nations climate talks at Copenhagen two years ago with grand ambitions and having left with disillusion, are now defining expectations down and hoping to keep the process alive through modest steps.” Why did so many leave Copenhagen with “disillusion” and “now defining expectations down”? No explanation is given but the answer is simple: President Obama sabotaged the talks. Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales, told Democracy Now! after he left with “disillusion” that “I know what exclusion looks like.”
When I arrived at the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen in late last year, the first thing that struck me were environmental activists braving the freezing weather to voice their disappointment at being locked out of the largest ever international meeting on climate change. Inside the conference, I realised that Bolivia was in a position similar to that of the protesters outside. We, the representatives of the majority of the world’s peoples, were effectively being left in the cold while a tiny group dominated by a few rich governments met in private to produce an unacceptable compromise. When asked to add our signature to the badly named “accord”, my government would not compromise its dignity and refused to sign.
The “unacceptable compromise” was an unbinding “agreement” to make “meaningful” reductions in carbon emissions. But as BBC environmental correspondent Richard Black noted:
While the White House was announcing the agreement, many other – perhaps most other – delegations had not even seen it. A comment from a UK official suggested the text was not yet final and the Bolivian delegation has already complained about the way it was reached – “anti-democratic, anti-transparent and unacceptable”. With no firm target for limiting the global temperature rise, no commitment to a legal treaty and no target year for peaking emissions, countries most vulnerable to climate impacts have not got the deal they wanted.
Thus most of the world’s leaders left the conference with “disillusion” and are “now defining expectations down.”
The apologetics for imperialism is achieved once again with this comment from Broder’s article:
One of the issues that is most contentious and least likely to be resolved involves the future of the Kyoto Protocol, which requires the major industrialized nations to meet targets on emissions reduction but imposes no mandates on developing countries, including emerging economic powers and sources of global greenhouse gas emissions like China, India, Brazil and South Africa.
The United States is not a party to the protocol, having refused to even consider ratifying it because of those asymmetrical obligations. Some major countries, including Canada, Japan and Russia, have said they will not agree to an extension of the protocol next year unless the unbalanced requirements of developing and developed countries are changed. That is similar to the United States’ position, which is that any successor treaty must apply equally to all major economies.
A few sensible questions Broder doesn’t ask or address is:
These four questions are largely answered with two words: colonialism and imperialism. The developed world has developed via the colonization and pillaging of the “developing world.” Through centuries of European and American imperialism, the wealth and resources of the “developing world” has been exploited for the development of the powerful nations, leaving the developing world to struggle for existence. While the West has violated its own “free trade” principles that it imposes on the rest of the world via the World Trade Organization and various “free trade agreements” (much like what the U.S. just did in Panama, Colombia and South Korea), and which has allowed it to develop their economies, this same luxury is not being afforded to the developing world.
This is much like the proverbial poker game political scientist Roy L. Brooks used about ten years ago to describe the continuation of racism in the U.S. And with a simple modification it easily applies to this “contentious” issue:
Two [groups of countries]– one [developed] and the other [developing]– are playing a game of poker. The game has been in progress for some 300 years. One player – the [developed] one – has been cheating during much of this time, but now announces: ‘from this day forward, there will be a new game with new players and no more cheating.’ Hopeful but suspicious, the [developing] player responds, ‘that’s great. I’ve been waiting to hear you say that for 300 years. Let me ask you, what are you going to do with all those poker chips that you have stacked up on your side of the table all these years?’ ‘Well,’ said the [developed] player, somewhat bewildered by the question, ‘they are going to stay right here, of course.’ ‘That’s unfair,’ snaps the [developing] player. ‘The new [developed] player will benefit from your past cheating. Where’s the equality in that?’ ‘But you can’t realistically expect me to redistribute the poker chips along [developmental] lines when we are trying to move away from considerations of [development] and when the future offers no guarantees to anyone,’ insists the [developed] player. ‘And surely,’ he continues, ‘redistributing the poker chips would punish individuals for something they did not do. Punish me, not the innocents!’ Emotionally exhausted, the [developing] player answers, ‘but the innocents will reap a [developmental] windfall.’
It is hard to contain outrage towards the cynicism of the West’s exploitation of the developing world to the point that it has spewed so much carbon into the atmosphere that a climatic crisis is upon us, while its victims are being denied the privilege of developing themselves due to a misguided sense of fairness.
Broder continues the farce by letting us know that “the major developing countries, and most African and Pacific island nations would like to see the Kyoto process extended as a prelude to a binding international agreement after 2020,” which ends that year but that according to the chief American climate negotiator such an agreement will only be likely “once the various Kyoto and Cancún agreements have run their course”—i.e. no serious agreement will ever be accepted, and only some meaningless agreement may happen after Kyoto is buried in its grave. That the International Energy Agency recently announced that “If we do not have an international agreement whose effect is put in place by 2017, then the door will be closed forever” is not even mentioned by Broder.
The Times piece ends with noting that
The United States has been criticized at these gatherings for years, in part because of its rejection of the Kyoto framework and in part because it has not adopted a comprehensive domestic program for reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions. President Obama has pledged to reduce American emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, but his preferred approach, a nationwide cap-and-trade system for carbon pollution, failed spectacularly in Congress in 2010. United States emissions are down about 6 percent over the past five years, largely because of the drop in industrial and electricity production caused by the recession.
As noted above, a coherent account of the U.S.’s “rejection of the Kyoto framework” is never provided, nor is there an explanation of why the U.S. “has not adopted a comprehensive domestic program for reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions” in a way that relates “prevailing phenomena to the existing distribution of power.” And ignoring the role of President Obama at the late 2009 Copenhagen talks, we are told that the president “has pledged to reduce American emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, but his preferred approach, a nationwide cap-and-trade system for carbon pollution, failed spectacularly in Congress in 2010.” Though again, why it “failed spectacuraly” is “disguised or withheld.” Chomsky and Herman would likely agree that, like the role of U.S. human rights violations abroad, American opposition and inaction on resolving climate change has ”its obvious roots in a domestic socioeconomic structure,” and the Times journalistic integrity in covering this ”is spectacularly lacking.” They would also surely agree with their words being applied to the statement that, “If the press . . . were free of compelling ideological blinders, the story of the United States” and its counter-productive role in mitigating climate change ”would be at the core of the study of U.S. international affairs, past and current” and that sadly, and much to the dismay of the world who will suffer the consequences, “Such is very far from the case.”