Legend has it that during the Great Fire of Rome (C.E. 64), the Emperor Nero “fiddled”, singing the Sack of Ilium while the city burned. It seems, in fact, that the Emperor was not in Rome at the time of the fire, and in reality organized tremendous relief efforts upon his immediate return (oh, and the fiddle had not yet been invented). Therefore, current accusations that world leaders are fiddling today as the world approaches the climate crisis are inaccurate. Oh, don’t get me wrong; they are indeed fiddling, but I don’t see the tremendous efforts of relief anywhere in sight.
A recent meeting of the top 16 polluting countries in the world saw the United States Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, and then the President, George Bush, perform a tag-team effort. First, Rice admitted that the U.S. is indeed one of the worst greenhouse gas emitters globally, and is not above the rest of the international community in this issue. Thank you for the insight Miss Rice. Second, the president several days later re-affirmed his government’s opposition to mandatory international cuts and controls, and instead voiced support for voluntary control. The main reason – protecting economies. Now, I am no economist, and I am not a Yaleite, and I must confess that I found the apparent logic to be a bit puzzling at first. But I think that I’ve figured it out. Mitigating the onset and effects of climate change will cost a lot of money. On the other hand, if we just let the thing run its course, we could be in for no changes, or…an economic boom! Let’s see how this works. Some of the major predicted consequences of climate change this century include: (1) changes in rainfall patterns. No worries, water is a minor component of global agricultural production and stability. It’s really more about subsidies and ethanol. (2) Increasingly intense summer heat waves. Okay, I get this one. The need for air conditioning will also increase, thereby spurring increased manufacturing output and keeping our power plants in business. (3) Sea level rise. I thought initially that this was bad, because of coastal flooding, reduced living spaces, flooding of entire nations, and so on, but I missed the big point. There will in fact be more sea surface area for increased shipping! (4) Loss of polar ice. This one really used to worry me, what with ice’s role in global ocean circulation, polar ecosystems, etc. But now I hear that the Northwest Passage is finally open! What more could we ask for? Here we are celebrating Columbus Day today in the U.S. (okay, only some are celebrating), not realizing how momentous it is that we can now sail from Europe to India without all those Americas getting in the way.
And so we come to the coup de grace, the kernel of globalized anastomosis. China and India, the world’s hottest (no pun intended!) economies, have welcomed Bush’s comments. I thought it was because they are also among the world’s biggest emitters. Silly me. It’s actually about tea and spices, and easy, ice-free sailing. (I trust the Canadians to take their fair share of the profits and not get in the way of global commerce.) Wow, brilliant. Fiddle on dear sirs, fiddle on.
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