The Axis of Ostriches

A map in a report on the climate negotiations by the Smith Institute at Oxford University (page 3) rates countries by their commitment to reducing carbon emissions:

Making all the caveats – the rating is a bit subjective, and applies to public policy stances not actual achievements – the isolation of the USA is remarkable. Its objective allies in the do-nothing caucus are only Canada, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. (Almost-as-bad Australia has just moved smartly into deeper green).

What’s the explanation? The RBC has to rule out the wingnut theory that the governments of >100 variegated countries, the EU members, China, India, Brazil, even Venezuela and Togo, have all been taken in by a deeply hidden and many-tentacled conspiracy of climate scientists and environmental activists – the Elders of Eden, so to speak. Better candidates:

* Theocracy: covers Iran, Saudi Arabia and to some extent the US, but not Canada..
* The Murdoch media: covers the USA (and Australia), but not the others; and Murdoch is influential in Britain, which has a activist policy.
* Organized denialism: SFIK a similar distribution to the Murdoch empire, not accidentally. Denialists in Denmark (Lomborg) and France (Allègre) are not influential.
* Fossil fuel producers: covers all, but weakly correlated if you look at the others as well. China and India dig a lot of coal, Venezuela, Norway and Russia are major oil and gas producers.
* Exceptionalism in a general cultural way: my best bet. Covers Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the USA, plus Australia. The outlier is Canada, a me-too country: but in this case, torn between “good world citizen” and “deferential neighbour”. Exceptionalism creates a bias against listening to global opinion, and makes domestic political, economic and ideological forces paramount.

Nothing fits really well. Better suggestions welcome.

Overall the map can be read as good or bad news. The bad is that the seriously committed countries (dark green) are still in the minority, and that even their policies, if generalised, are not enough to stabilize the climate at a (still risky) 2°C warming. Following the EU isn’t enough, the model should be Norway, which aims to reduce emissions to 70% of 1990 levels by 2020.

The good news is that the committed states – the EU, Japan, and China – are together big enough to have created market conditions for sustained innovation in green technology. Like Matthew, I’m an optimist on technology – though we differ I think on the role of the state in creating markets for it. Technological revolutions don’t follow a steady-growth path, rather a sigmoid one, Solar PV is growing at >30% a year by quantity, and that’s before the breakout. The USA will move quickly from bystander to free rider.

But nature may be speeding up too. It’s a race against the clock.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]