Unfortunately, climate policy really is a matter of money, and Europe doesn't have any to spare right now
A protester gestures in front of a banner outside the UN-led climate talks in Durban, South Africa / Reuters
Who will lead the world on climate change? The U.S. Democratic party's will and strength for big legislation is still sapped by the health care push and the ongoing spending fights. Booming China, which will become the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter in 2009 -- though still behind U.S. on a per-capita basis -- has always seen plenty of incentive to not bow to after-the-fact Western moans about carbon caps.* The European Union and its member states have long been the among the few encouraging political actors for environmentalists.
But, as the United Nations climate talks in Durban currently underway now show, when it comes to international carbon agreements, you might not even be able to count on Europe any more.
"We must certainly lower our expectations of what 'success' is," German chancellor Angela Merkel said over the weekend. Though Merkel went on to describe reluctance among "emerging market" nations to accept binding targets, German reports on the comment recognize a new emerging reality: the problem isn't just the developing nations -- the problem is that Europe isn't really in a position to lead at present. Public and political attention is focused on the debt crisis and the specter of austerity-led recession. Resources that might have gone into helping poorer nations deal with climate change or promoting alternative energy innovations are already pledged to bailouts.
"Who knows what's going on with climate change?" asked French paper Libération last Monday. "With the euro and sovereign debt crisis, it's dropped out of the international agenda." The writer declared that the Durban negotiations opened amid "relative indifference." Though the EU remains the only actor with any clout willing to make a real reduction commitment, and stands on the side of small island states in wanting a legal deal finalized by 2015, climate change has, out of necessity, dropped a few rungs on its list of priorities. "Since the Copenhagen summit and with the current economic crisis, we've seen a real slackening: in France it's not a subject, in Europe it's not a subject, in the U.S. it's even worse," the Libération piece quoted an unnamed French diplomat as saying.
To be sure, there was pessimism about binding international agreements long before this. But in addition, notes Andreas Mihm in Durban-based analysis for German paper Die Zeit, "the large industrial states have, in the face of the sovereign debt crisis, slashed budgets for climate control." Germany, unsurprisingly for those who have been following the crisis, remains the best positioned to continue marking money for environmental purposes, but one has to wonder how many mouths, exactly, Europe's de facto banking country can continue to feed. Mihm points out that Germany is already cutting its climate change budget back by 1.5 billion euros, while elsewhere in Europe "the cuts are even deeper" -- 3.8 billion euros reassigned in Spain, and 3.1 billion likely to be pulled in the UK.
Unfortunately, climate policy really is a matter of money, and how much a country can, politically and financially, afford. It's not just that things like carbon taxes or caps, for example, temporarily take chunks of potential productivity out of the economy; even many economists feel a so-called Pigovian tax on emissions would be an appropriate way to balance out the "externality" of climate change, which is left unaccounted for in traditional market models. There's also a large financial component to the proposed international agreements at this point: developing nations want and in many cases need loans to adapt to climate change and to nudge their economies in the direction of lower emissions. Even within developed countries, enacting policies to meet such targets is expensive: there are alternative energy subsidies to consider, incentives to manipulate, and even carbon markets to create and regulate.
The French Minister for Ecology, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, has been quoted admitting on Friday that there is a risk of "explosion" in the European bloc due to internal divisions.
As the French paper Libération observes, even if Europe were to stick to its proposed course, that would account for only 16 percent of global emissions. What international climate policy requires is momentum and forceful leadership. Where, exactly, is that likely to be found in the present political climate?
*Monday, China did offer up at least a show of cooperation, suggesting, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, that it might accept legally binding reductions after 2020 if the U.S. and others made progress in the meantime.
How a strange face in a random 19th-century newspaper ad became a portal to a forgotten moment in ASCII art history
One of the joys of modern technology is how easy it is to immerse yourself in the past. Every day, more libraries and archives are pushing pieces of their collections online in easily browsable interfaces.
Why aren’t the critics comparing Donald Trump to a fascist acknowledging that the office he seeks is too powerful?
Wake up, establishment centrists: Donald Trump is coming!
After the Vietnam War and Watergate and the spying scandals uncovered by the Church Committee and the Nixon Administration cronies who nearly firebombed the Brookings Institution, Americans were briefly inclined to rein in executive power—a rebuke to Richard Nixon’s claim that “if the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Powerful committees were created to oversee misconduct-prone spy agencies. The War Powers Resolution revived a legislative check on warmaking. “In 34 years,” Vice President Dick Cheney would lament to ABC News in a January 2002 interview, “I have repeatedly seen an erosion of the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job. I feel an obligation... to pass on our offices in better shape than we found them to our successors."
For some, meditation has become more curse than cure. Willoughby Britton wants to know why.
Set back on quiet College Hill in Providence, Rhode Island, sits a dignified, four story, 19th-century house that belongs to Dr. Willoughby Britton. Inside, it is warm, spacious, and organized. The shelves are stocked with organic foods. A solid wood dining room table seats up to 12. Plants are ubiquitous. Comfortable pillows are never far from reach. The basement—with its own bed, living space, and private bathroom—often hosts a rotating cast of yogis and meditation teachers. Britton’s own living space and office are on the second floor. The real sanctuary, however, is on the third floor, where people come from all over to rent rooms, work with Britton, and rest. But they're not there to restore themselves with meditation—they're recovering from it.
For centuries, philosophers and theologians have almost unanimously held that civilization as we know it depends on a widespread belief in free will—and that losing this belief could be calamitous. Our codes of ethics, for example, assume that we can freely choose between right and wrong. In the Christian tradition, this is known as “moral liberty”—the capacity to discern and pursue the good, instead of merely being compelled by appetites and desires. The great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant reaffirmed this link between freedom and goodness. If we are not free to choose, he argued, then it would make no sense to say we ought to choose the path of righteousness.
Today, the assumption of free will runs through every aspect of American politics, from welfare provision to criminal law. It permeates the popular culture and underpins the American dream—the belief that anyone can make something of themselves no matter what their start in life. As Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, American “values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will.”
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “The Door,” the fifth episode of the sixth season.
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FindFace's technology may one day allow anyone to identify you with their phone.
Imagine you’re sitting in a coffee shop. Out of the corner of your eye, you see a stranger pointing his phone in your direction. The next day, you get an email from someone claiming to have seen you at the coffee shop. He’s asking you on a date. You have no idea how he got your contact information, let alone how he identified you.
The power to identify total strangers on the street is the advertising pitch for a new wave of startups hoping to capitalize on rapidly advancing facial recognition technology. But in Russia, it’s already a reality.
FindFace, an app launched by a Russian startup two months ago, lets its users identify strangers from pictures of their faces. It does so by matching the photos against profile pictures from VK—also known as VKontakte—a Russian social networking website similar to Facebook. Its founders have touted the app as great for building friendships or starting relationships with strangers. But the privacy risks are enormous.
Her patchy Billboard Awards performance is drawing the inevitable flak, but fortunately other artists will get their chances to pay homage.
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But the most divisive performance of the night was the only memorial that was really billed as such—Madonna’s pitchy but pious rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and “Purple Rain” with Stevie Wonder. The performance was, at its most basic level, a tribute to Prince, but like so much of the evening it felt like a statement of futility: Something’s gone forever, and the only, imperfect thing to do is sing about it.
The refugee crisis in the Dominican Republic and Haiti shows the human consequences of extreme anti-immigration policies—and how voters get used to them.
An unprecedented refugee crisis, economic inequality, and fears of terrorism are helping stoke the rise of extreme anti-immigrant politicians across Europe and the United States. Hungary’s Viktor Orban, France’s Marine Le Pen, Austria’s Norbert Hofer, and yes, Donald Trump, are riding a much-remarkedsurge in popular support, with Hofer just losing his presidential bid by a razor-thin margin. All have embraced extreme nativist rhetoric, but meanwhile a different nationalist experiment is already running its course, and uprooting thousands on the basis of their ancestry, under a leader who is by most accounts a moderate technocrat. And the Dominican Republic’s President Danilo Medina just claimed a landslide reelection victory.