The July 6-8 summit meeting of the Group of Eight industrial nations comes as humanity is drifting toward unparalleled catastrophe. Climate change, a prime focus of the summit, is on track to kill millions of people in the twenty-first century. The victims will die not in the sudden bang of radioactive explosions but in the gradual whimper of environmental collapse, as soaring temperatures and rising seas submerge cities, parch farmlands, crash ecosystems and spread hunger, disease and chaos worldwide.
As summit host, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain has lobbied the heads of government gathering in Scotland to take much stronger action against climate change, a problem his science adviser, Sir David King, has called the greatest danger civilization has faced in 5,000 years. Blair has been pointing out since 2002 that the Kyoto Protocol “is not radical enough.” The protocol demands 5 percent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by industrial countries only. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says a 50 to 70 percent reduction by humanity as a whole is needed. To bridge that ten-fold gap, Blair has urged the G-8 nations, which are responsible for the majority of previous emissions, to endorse an ambitious program of strict timelines and emissions cuts.
But Blair has been unwilling to admit the obvious: His dream of a historic breakthrough on climate will come only if G-8 leaders are willing to defy the Bush Administration and plot their own course. George W. Bush has made it clear he’s not interested in doing anything about climate change except study it. For Bush and his right-wing base, the non-existence of climate change is an article of faith, like the non-existence of evolution, and it doesn’t matter what scientists say. Nevertheless, Blair insists the United States must be part of any climate accord, arguing, “If you simply exclude America from this equation, we’ll never get it done.” The result is, Bush gets a veto over the world’s progress.
To counter Bush’s objection that Kyoto excuses rising industrial powers from emissions reductions, Blair invited China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico to Scotland to entice commitments from them as well. Bush didn’t budge. Three weeks before the summit, leaked drafts showed that US negotiators had demanded removal of all references to the urgency of climate change from the summit’s final accord. No longer would the G-8 leaders endorse “ambitious targets and timetables” for emissions reductions or fund alternative energy development. They wouldn’t even acknowledge basic scientific findings that climate change has already begun and is due largely to human activity.
There is common ground between Bush and Blair, however, and it hints at the kind of deal that, unfortunately, might emerge from this summit. One year ago, Blair disclosed to a parliamentary committee that Washington was pressing Britain to support a new generation of nuclear reactors that were supposedly safer and cheaper. According to a report in the Guardian, Blair told the committee that “if you are serious about the issue of climate change,” nuclear power must be part of the solution. Unlike coal, oil and natural gas combustion, nuclear fission produces no carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas.
Reviving nuclear power has been a priority for Bush since 2001, when the energy plan devised by Vice President Cheney advocated construction of hundreds of new nuclear plants. Bush’s 2006 budget proposes reducing funding for the Energy Department by 2 percent even as nuclear funding increases 5 percent.