11 October 2010

American Exceptionalism?

Writing in the National Journal, Ron Brownstein makes the case that the linchpin to global action on climate change lies in the views of US Republicans:
The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones. . .

Indeed, it is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here. Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says that although other parties may contain pockets of climate skepticism, there is "no party-wide view like this anywhere in the world that I am aware of."

It will be difficult for the world to move meaningfully against climate disruption if the United States does not. And it will be almost impossible for the U.S. to act if one party not only rejects the most common solution proposed for the problem (cap-and-trade) but repudiates even the idea that there is a problem to be solved.
It may very well be the case that in the league table of opposition to action on climate change, US Republicans (particularly their Tea Partiers) are at the top.  But their uniqueness is a somewhat exaggerated by Brownstein.  The table would also include Australian Liberals, the Danish People's Party, UK Conservatives (not of the LibCon persuasion), and even Germany's Free Democrats among others (who actually knows what China's ruling party actually thinks).

More important than the league table of expressed views are the actual policies that are in fact supported by national governments.  Does Brownstein actually think that the policies supported by Britain and Germany, much less India and China, are on course to accelerating decarbonization?  Or that if US Republicans started talking differently (or were converted to cap-and-trade) that decarbonization would be accelerating?

This is certainly not to be read as a defense of US Republicans -- to be clear I'm no fan. But it is important to be able to distinguish political talk from political action. The league table of countries successfully accelerating their decarbonization is so far an empty set. Would it really be a victory, as Brownstein implies, if the US Republicans starting talking like UK Conservatives, and even supported adopting similar policies to those in UK law?

Policy success requires more than pleasing talk.  It requires actual action.  Ironically, the intransigence of the US Republican party makes it impossible to be fooled into thinking that the US is actually taking steps that will lead to the decarbonization of its economy.  And in that respect, the US truly is exceptional.