Climate Change: Reaping a Whirlwind

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Tony Blair has intervened to ensure that British power stations and industries will be given increased allowances to emit carbon dioxide (CO2) over the next three years.

As ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced this development through the media, they sought to reassure us that the new CO2 allowances were still a step in the right direction, but were now more 'balanced' because they would not undermine the 'competitiveness' of British industry. Needless to say, Digby Jones of the Confederation of British Industries (CBI) and other business leaders welcomed the news.

The decision was not so well received by environmental groups. Stephen Tindale of Greenpeace expressed widely held frustration with Blair's decisive role in this development, especially since 'only this month Tony Blair was telling us how shocked he'd been by the latest evidence on climate change'.

Indeed, even in this very busy year of his, Blair would have needed a pretty serious head in the sand strategy if he wanted to avoid the mounting evidence on climate change and its potentially disastrous ecological and social impact.

To date we have learnt that the increase in temperature for the 20th century was the largest for 1,000 years and that much of this warming was concentrated in the period following 1976. Continued global warming has the potential to wipe out 50 percent of the world's species during the first half of this century, and threatens to undermine or even reverse human progress as flooding, drought, disease and ecological disruption increasingly and disproportionately affect the impoverished majority of the world's population. Indeed, scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have calculated that climate change already results in 160,000 deaths a year.

Most shocking for Tony Blair in October must have been the news from Hawaii, where a climate observatory that has been measuring atmospheric CO2 increases since 1958 recorded a sharp leap upwards in CO2 emission rates over the last two years. These recordings were significantly higher than the emissions released by the world's power stations and motor vehicles for both years and may be evidence for a climate change 'feedback' mechanism - a frightening snowball effect whereby global warming reinforces itself as it alters the earth's ecological systems.

Blair's seemingly irrational response to the accumulating evidence for global warming is best understood in terms of his government's priorities. From the standpoint of the Department of Trade and Industry and the CBI, implementing even the compromised and far too modest Kyoto agreement is seen as threatening to profits ('competitiveness'). In directly encouraging British industry to continue polluting, Blair is aping George Bush and his rationale for rejecting Kyoto. In the year before an election Blair will not do anything that will harm the interests of British business - even if this devastates the poor and dramatically deepens the environmental crisis we all face.