03/31/01

Although the US emits 25 % of the Greenhouse Gasses on Earth, President Bush recently rejected the idea of adhering to the Kyoto Accords. His stated reasoning is that adherence to the accords must take a back seat to rescuing the US Economy from the effects of the energy crisis.

On the face of it, this argument carries a lot of weight. Ensuring the survival of the most important and progressive Economy in Human History, the one that finally provided an unprecedented bounty and prosperity, should certainly be a high priority. So why don't we feel better?

The energy sources that Mr. Bush seems inclined to discuss have generally been of the non-renewable variety. He has chattted-up the importance of drilling for Oil in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. He has emphatically suppored drilling for Natural Gas and Coal in Canada and the Rockies and elsewhere. He has the Department of Energy scouring our technologies, trying to find a way to "sequester" waste Carbon from fossil fuels, even to the point of needlessly endangering the Oceans of the Earth and embarrassing a large number of those in the scientific community. I guess he has given some support to Nuclear technologies.

And given the concern about jobs, starvation, recessions and preserving our economy, I think we can see how we must compromise and learn to understand our dependence on these technologies. Who amongst us wants to go back to living in the dark ages?

But, except for Republican party support for Hydroelectricity from dams, discussion of renewable energies and their important economic benefits has not been of much interest to Mr. Bush, and here we have a very important clue, if we are smart enough to understand it: He does not actually care as much about the future of our economy as he claims.

If the Bush Administration really honestly cared about doing everything humanly and ethically possible to search for energy solutions, they would embrace and support and purchase energy technologies outside the purview of Mr. Bush's circle of friends and supporters. But that is not what they have been doing.

No massive government orders have been forthcoming for Solar PV cells, orders which might allow domestic manufacturers to increase their output by orders of magnitude. Very few enlightened progressive projects are being undertaken by our defense or civilian authorities to convert the 785 Gigawatt domestic grid to domestically harvestable renewable energies. Very few positive things are being said by the Bush Administration about grid-chargeable hybrid vehicles and pure electrics. When Mr. Bush speaks of alternatives to Alaskan Oil, he speaks of Northern Canadian Natural Gas, not of harvesting wind and wave energy.

There is a perception amongst political philsophers that "capitalism" and "capitalists" will advocate any policy which is inherently anti-environmental until they are really slapped in the face with costly lawsuits. If this principle is true, it is only in the sense that nations which do not enforce post-production property rights may see profit-seeking corporations flout environmental rules. In order for laws and rules to have weight, they must be enforced.

But "environmental" concerns are not necessarily antithetical to "property rights" advocacy as is often assumed. Maintaining that one's actions and property do not impinge on the property of others is an important environmental and property-rights principle, though difficult to enforce and adjudicate.

It becomes doubly tough to enforce and understand when the property rights conflicts spill across national boundaries. How does one provide incentive to entire nations and their companies to stop causing negative environmental externalities that they do not see or feel within their own borders? A good capitalistic country might perhaps have some respect for the importance of being a good international citizen, in the sense of not ruining the entire Earth, if that is what is honestly at stake.

Anyway, I doubt that Mr. Bush is a particularly good example of an advocate of property rights in the idealistic sense, so much as he is a capitalist when politically convenient. Like a tobacco executive who can claim that cigarettes are not adictive, he seems intent on playing the no-proof-of-global-environmental-problems as far as he can take it. Worse, he claims that his concern is the American Economy and its future, but he has done little to embrace all possible solutions and not just the ones that suit his fossil fuel buddies.