Globalism has shaped most industries and touched the lives of most people. Nowhere is this more evident than in the debate on global warming.

Al Gore’s movie (derided by an Australian minister a few short months ago), the Stern report (whose science has been severely questioned) and an intergovernmental study have all claimed global warming is real, likely to be worse than expected and largely caused by human activities.

Even President Bush, in his recent State of the Union address, showed interest in the subject and our own John Howard has begun to spruik the problem and to discuss solutions. Kevin Rudd is running hard in a similar direction. There have also been calls for an “independent” Reserve Bank-style water authority.

The Economist examines the state of play in the US, where the Federal government has dragged its heels while many states, corporations and individuals have accepted the message and begun looking for answers:

Despite all this grassroots environmentalism, America remains the biggest contributor to global warming, accounting for roughly a fifth of all the world’s emissions. The federal government’s recalcitrance on the subject remains the biggest obstacle to an effective global scheme to tackle the problem. But whereas in Europe or Asia new ideas often flow from the centre to the regions, in America the states are the incubators of big shifts in policy. This means that change is coming – fast.

Australian business has also climbed aboard the global warming bandwagon, according to The Oz. “Australian business leaders have heeded the blunt warning in the latest intergovernmental report on climate change which predicts that temperatures could rise by up to 4C by 2100 and sea levels by up to 29cm.”

The test of course is what people do, not what they say. The world needs serious limits on noxious emissions, backed by carbon taxes that can only be imposed by individual nations – so if the US is not “in”, progress will be limited. Apart from dearer electricity, this will raise the price of petrol and limit private use of motor vehicles. Technology will need to be brought to bear, producing “clean coal”, burying CO2 (“carbon sequestration”), installing nuclear power stations and developing solar, wind and wave power – although at present (in the absence of hefty carbon taxes) all these “alternative” energy source are uneconomic.

Climate change looks like being an election issue in many countries, including Australia. This debate will hot up a lot more yet (ahem!).

Read more at Henry Thornton.

Peter Fray

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