Skip to Content

Cooking the Books 1: Putting business first

President George Bush II is nothing if not frank, at least on the Kyoto Treaty. Interviewed by Sir Trevor McDonald on the eve of last month’s G8 summit (ITV, 4 July) he had this to say of this treaty which aims to timidly limit carbon emissions (one of the contributory causes of the current global warming):

“I made the decision . . . that the Kyoto treaty didn’t suit our needs. In other words, the Kyoto treaty would have wrecked our economy, if I can be blunt . . . I walked away from Kyoto because it would damage America’s economy, you bet. It would have destroyed our economy. It was a lousy deal for the American economy.”

As the head of US capitalism’s political executive, his remit is to protect and further the interests of the US capitalist class. The reason why he and his advisers decided that the Kyoto Treaty would have damaged the US economy was that America gets a higher proportion of energy from burning coal and oil than its rivals, so that any commitment to use other, more expensive sources of energy would have cost the US proportionately more than these rivals and so reduced its competitiveness vis-à-vis them.

That Kyoto would have advantaged their economies compared to America may even have been at the back of the minds of the European political leaders who promoted the treaty. If so, they miscalculated and may now find that it is their economies that are going to be disadvantaged.

In any event, while it is clear that a question which concerns the whole world such as the possible consequences of global warming can be effectively dealt with only by unified action at a world level, it is equally clear that this is not going to happen under capitalism. The different capitalist states into which the world is divided have different – and clashing – interests, such as have come to the surface over Kyoto, which they will always put first. At most, all that can happen under capitalism when a global problem arises is “much too little, much too late”.

That the leaders of the capitalist States of Europe are just as willing (if not just as frank about it) as Bush to put the interests of their capitalist class first when it comes to environmental problems was shown by a headline in the Times the following day: “Europe drops green agenda to put life back into industry”. The article reported that, under pressure from governments and from business lobbies, the European Commission has put off proposals to deal with the problem of air pollution:

“The shelving of the environment strategies marks a triumph for the British Government, which has called on the Commission to stop producing regulations that damage businesses. An impact assessment had suggested that the air-pollution strategy alone would cost between €5.9 billion and €14.9 billion a year from 2020”.

Enough said.