Montreal Climate Change Conference: Bush Feels the Heat

by Michael G. Livingston


A United Nations Climate Change Conference is being held in Montreal November 28 to December 9, 2005. As the conference approached, the Bush administration was starting to feel the heat, both literally and politically, for its position on global warming.

The U.S. kept a low profile at the conference. The U.S. spokesman kept repeating the Bush line—that there is no proof that global warming is real and that the U.S. will not do anything about it.

Meanwhile the evidence for global warming continues to pile up as global temperatures continue to rise. The hurricane season ended with more than 26 named storms, breaking all records. In yet another study, reported in the New York Times on November 11, ice core samples taken from Antarctica show that today’s levels of three greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) are higher than those levels have been for the last 650,000 years. The study, which examined air trapped in successively older ice samples, destroys the claims that the current level of greenhouse gases falls within the range of normal variability. The study further shows that there has been a tight relationship during the last 650,000 years between air temperature and levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The study is yet another nail in the coffin of global warming skeptics.

More disturbing evidence of global warming did not make it into the national print or electronic media. Studies compiled at the University of Wisconsin in collaboration with the World Health Organization show that global warming is changing the range, frequency, and seasonality of infectious diseases. One example of this is the spread of West Nile virus in the U.S. Most of the examples, however, occur in Africa, Latin America, and tropical areas of Asia, and are thus almost invisible in the U.S. media. The University of Wisconsin research was covered by The Herald of Bradenton, Florida (11/18/05) but was not carried in most U.S. newspapers. Given its importance, it should have been front-page news across the U.S. But such coverage would have raised difficult questions, not just for the Bush administration, but for large sectors of the U.S. capitalist class.

The worse news of all comes not from the Antarctic or the University of Wisconsin, but from Greenland. This past summer record amounts of Greenland’s ice cap turned to water. The water has percolated down through the glaciers that cover Greenland and are now acting as a kind of conveyor belt, speeding the movement of the glaciers toward the sea where they will break off, first forming icebergs, then melting. The research, published in the journal Geophysical Research and reported in the British Independent  on November 11,  warned that disappearance of the Greenland Icecap will raise world sea levels by 20 feet, flooding London and other coastal cities such as Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles, and Boston and putting entire countries such as the Netherlands and Bangladesh under water. Researchers also warned that the influx of fresh water could slow down the Gulf Stream, which moderates the climate of Britain and Ireland, and would cause substantial loss of crops and animals.

Bush and his administration are also starting to feel the heat politically. The state of New York is set to follow California in adopting strict emission standards to cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Nov. 26 New York Times. Other states planning on adopting the stricter California standards include New Jersey, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Washington. The standards require a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 40% increase in fuel efficiency (thus also addressing the looming problem of declining oil supplies). Current plans are that the standards will be phased in between 2009 and 2016. Auto companies are planning a massive legal challenge to the new standards, which are also opposed by the Bush administration.

At the same time that coastal states in the east and west are moving against the Bush administrations do-nothing policy on global warming, sectors of the environmental movement are forming broad coalitions around global warming and calling for demonstrations.

The national Climate Crisis Coalition (www.climatecrisiscoalition.org) planned a mass demonstration in Montreal on December 3. Over 15,000 participated in that demonstration. Among the demands of the Climate Crisis Coalition are: ratification by the U.S. of the Kyoto Protocol, support for clean, safe, non-nuclear energy, and an end to subsidies for oil and coal corporations. An additional important demand is for a Just Transition for workers, indigenous peoples, and others affected by the conversion to alternative energies. [Information on the Just Transition can be found at www.jtalliance.org and is also an important plank in the Labor Party platform.]

The Climate Crisis Coalition is also urging the formation of local coalitions. Local coalitions and groups carried out demonstrations in over 25 states and 31 countries on December 3. In 2006 the coalition hopes to hold town meetings around the country on global warming followed by a national demonstration later in the year. This represents the first time the environmental movement has sought to mobilize people in the streets around global warming and is a significant step forward for the movement, which has been considered by some environmentalists to be in a state of crisis.

Can the Bush administration resist efforts to protect the planet? The future is not yet written and will depend upon what you, and many others, do. What is certain is that Bush & Co. will resist any efforts to curtail the unrestrained quest for profit by the capitalist system and will make no concessions without a fight. That fight, like the future, is before us.

The author can be reached at livingstonmiguel@hotmail.com