Rhein on Energy and Climate

The impossible America

Humanity owes a lot to the America. It has been the cradle of democracy and human rights. Its Constitution – adopted in 1787 and basically unchanged since –is one of the most precious and well-formulated political documents ever written. Europe owes America an enormous gratitude for having sacrificed its service men in 1944-45 to liberate it from Nazi terror and occupation. The list of beneficiary actions is long.

But in the last few decades the USA has generated more damage to Humanity than benefits.

It has dragged itself, Europe and the world into two costly wars, first Iraq and then Afghanistan, without resolving the underlying issues and fully respecting human rights.

In 2007/08 it was responsible for the worst economic and financial crisis Europe and the Western world has suffered since the 1930s.

Worst of all, global climate change is very largely due to the irresponsible waste of energy by American citizens during the past 60 years. Its political incapacity to reign in C02 emissions will be the most pernicious heritage modern America leaves to posterity. C02 emissions accumulate in the atmosphere and stay there for 100 and more years; and US annual per capita emissions of 20 tons amount to five times the global average.

For someone who personally owes a lot to America these are serious accusations. I therefore ask myself what has happened between 1950 when I lived in America and today.

First, US citizens have failed to understand the profound political, economic and ecological changes that have taken place on the planet during the last 30 years. They continue to believe their country offers unlimited opportunities. The term “constraint” is hardly part of their vocabulary. A large fraction of the political elite, including the presumptive new Speaker of the House, refuse to acknowledge that climate change is taking place. What can the world expect from such a blind-folded government!

Second, they continue to believe that spending is good for the individual and society. Budget deficits and personal individual borrowing are normal, even if they become excessive.

Third, the influence of business on political decisions exceeds everything acceptable to Europeans. The spending campaign during the last midterm election has scored new records. Advertising paid by big business is fast becoming a substitute to arguments and political discourse. If this dangerous trend is not stopped – and the Supreme Court has failed to do so by allowing unlimited campaign spending – the days of American democracy may be counted.

Fourth, due to the overwhelming influence of business groups on Congress,

legislation no longer incarnates the common interest. This has been most visible in the way the oil, gas and coal industries have prevented the adoption of international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol and legislation aiming at a reduction of C02 emissions for more than 10 years.

Fifth, changing the composition of the Congress every two years makes it practically impossible for the Executive to define any long-term strategy. The country is governed by short-term parochial concerns.

Sixth, US “exceptionalism” prevents the government from behaving like a normal country on the international scene. The US elite have believed too long in US supremacy and privileges. Far from offering a positive example, as the EU has tried to do since its creation 50 years ago, the USA stubbornly defends its national interest without caring about its international image. It refuses to ratify international treaties when this suits business interests. The majority of US Senators only seem to care about the business interests in their State. The failure to ratify the International Convention on Biodiversity or the Kyoto Protocol on climate change is just a most recent example of US incapability to act responsibly in the interest of Humanity.

So where do we go from here?

The US behaviour is not sustainable. Sooner or later coalitions of countries will rise and defy the USA.

The severe criticism addressed at the FED for its most inflationary decisions simultaneously by the German Finance Minister and the Chinese Central Bank is unprecedented and shows the anger outside Washington.

At Cancun, in early December, the USA can also expect to come under heavy fire from the EU and emerging countries for its inability to act convincingly on climate issues.

The USA may still be the strongest military power on earth; but it depends on China and others for financing its huge budget and current account deficits and on OPEC countries for stilling its insatiable thirst for petrol. Its industrial basis is rapidly shrinking. The country better mind its Achilles heels!

Latest by 2030 the USA will have ceased to be a superior global power, able to “dictate” its will to the rest of the world. It will have to behave like an ordinary big power and accept international rules and regulations like all other countries.

The sooner the American elite swallow this bitter truth the better for the USA and the rest of the world. Through endless patient discussions Europe might possibly help its American friends abandon the “arrogance of power” and define a more responsible and sustainable lifestyle and governance.

Brussels 06. 11.10 Eberhard Rhein

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