Friday, June 08, 2007

A victory for Bush: The G8's meaningless climate deal and the bias of low expectations

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The headlines were all so positive, so happy, so full of sunny optimism: "G8 leaders agree to climate deal" (BBC); "G-8 Leaders Back 'Substantial' Cuts In Gas Emissions" (WaPo); "U.S. Compromise on Global Warming Plan Averts Impasse at Group of 8 Meeting" (NYT); and so on. An analyst at the BBC, hardly a news outlet to spin anything in Bush's favour, called the deal "a breakthrough in the long Euro-American stand-off over climate policy". The G8 leaders, as if guided by divine intervention, or at least by some miracle, agreed to "substantial" cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. They even agreed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's plan for a 50 percent reduction by 2050.

So -- wait. Does this mean that the U.S. actually gave in, that its position is not one of substantial negligence, that it is not a malevolent hegemon, that Bush's "new framework" is sincere and meaningful after all, that he is not an enabler of genocide? Could that all be true?

[Please pause for a moment as reality settles in.]


The headline at Canada's leading newspaper, The Globe and Mail, gets it right: "Climate deal struck -- with no firm targets". Yes, Merkel called the agreement "very great progress and an excellent result," but, according to the text of the agreement, countries must only "seriously consider" Merkel's 50 by 2050 plan. As the Post explains, "[u]nder the agreement, nonbinding goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions would be negotiated by officials from the world's top emitting nations by the end of next year". In other words, Bush didn't give in, he won. "The G-8 language echoes a plan articulated last week" in Bush's "new framework" speech. His national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, may be saying that the G8 leaders agreed to "a long-term goal, a long-term goal to substantially reduce emissions," but there is was no actual commitment to do anything at all -- other than to hold more talks (when what is needed is concerted leadeship and action). "What the United States proposed, and what I think got endorsement here, is a process whereby all the relevant countries can participate in the selection of that goal," said Hadley. In other words, Europe, Canada, and Japan may go ahead and do whatever they want. The U.S. -- perhaps along with Russia and non-G8 powers like China, India, and Brazil -- won't commit to do anything, and whatever it does do will be on its own terms.

That is a recipe for disaster, a disaster we know is coming.

Indeed, as it turns out -- whatever the rhetoric, whatever the spin, whatever the misleading headlines from around the world -- the U.S. did not give in, its position is one of substantial negligence, it is a malevolent hegemon, Bush's "new framework" is not sincere and meaningful, and he is an enabler of genocide.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Bush friend and ally, said that "what's been agreed for the first time is that we must have targets," that "we have to come toward real, mandatory, enforceable targets". Yet "[t]he United States was very clear that it will not agree to targets until it sees the entire world coming behind that concept".

The entire world? How is that even possible?

It isn't. It's just a cover for irresponsibility.


One more point: Once again, what we see here is an example of the low expectations that prop up Bush and that ultimately bias news coverage in his favour. Whereas Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004 were held to high standards and criticized for failing, as it was inevitable they would, to meet them, Bush was often praised for meeting far lower standards.

This applied to the issues -- Kerry's nuanced positions on Iraq were ridiculed as flip-flops while Bush's simplistic happy talk was celebrated as a reflection of confident leadership, for example -- but also to how they conducted themselves as candidates, that is, to image and style. Gore was considered to be wooden, and when he wasn't being wooden, or perceived to be wooden, he was accused of trying to hard not to seem wooden, that is, of being a fake. Meanwhile, Bush's awful struggles with the English language were laughed away as evidence of his down-home genuineness, proof that he was just a regular guy. Indeed, while Gore and Kerry were presenting serious policy positions on key issues both domestic and foreign, Bush was being applauded for stringing a few coherent sentences together and for not mangling his pronunciations. Although Bush's has collapsed in the polls, and although Jon Stewart may respond with baffled and occasionally miffed incredulity when Bush says something typically atrocious, not much has changed in how Bush is perceived and covered. The low expectations remain firmly in place.

To wit: Given his record -- and the low expectations of him with respect to the climate crisis -- Bush has been praised just for acknowledging the reality of global warming. Not, that is, for actually doing anything about it, but just for not denying it, like so many on the American right. And isn't this precisely why he is being praised (or at least not being criticized) for the G8 deal (which, again, is anything but a "compromise" -- Bush got what he wanted)? Very little was expected of him leading up to the G8 summit. Blair was optimistic, as he often is, but the conventional wisdom was that the U.S. would block any effort to deal with global warming, including any "compromise" deal that required the U.S. to give in even a little. In the end, the U.S. didn't really give in at all, and yet Bush is being praised because at least something was accomplished, at least some deal was reached. It may be a hollow deal without any of the necessary commitments, but at least it's a deal. And so Bush walks away looking good, just because he succeeded in meeting, and indeed in surpassing, the (very) low expectations that everyone had of him.

Some things haven't changed at all from Bush's run for the White House in 2000 to the 2007 G8 summit in Germany. However unpopular he and his policies may be, he still finds it easy, at times, to blow away the doubters, the purveyors of those low expectations, who continue to serve him so well.

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