In Seattle this last week, we’ve seen two developments, which may turn out to be important straws in the wind. I’ve been blogging over the last two years on the difficulties of achieving global reductions in carbon emissions and gaining multinational agreement to policies, which promote energy efficiency. Rich countries are seen as talking up their own efforts while being unwilling to put resources into helping developing countries tackle the massive problems they face.
The world financial crisis has now brought draconian cuts, growing unemployment and even national governments being bailed out. Efforts to create new green industries in a number of countries have been cut or watered down. After the Copenhagen and Cancun conferences, has the steam gone out of efforts to reduce our carbon footprint? In the US, the biggest producer of greenhouse gases, the Obama administration has lost control of Congress and according to its detractors, has lost too its resolve to fight for a better cleaner environment.
Well maybe there’s a grain of truth here. But the fight to sort out the current US deficit budget – which saw Congress threatening two weeks ago to close down the Federal Government – has brought a new urgent focus to the debate.
With the Presidential re-election due in two years time, Obama delivered on 13th April a deft assault on the Republicans’ position with a well-crafted argument for a more balanced budget. A key section of his speech on paying inter alia for clean energy is below, with the full speech available here.
“One vision has been championed by Republicans in the House of Representatives and embraced by several of their party’s presidential candidates. It’s a plan that aims to reduce our deficit by $4 trillion*** over the next ten years …. Those are both worthy goals for us to achieve. But the way this plan achieves those goals would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known throughout most of our history…. (involving) A 70% cut to clean energy. A 25% cut in education. A 30% cut in transportation ..”
“…. this is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.”
Importantly he was not a lone voice in demanding increased taxes as well as cuts, for just a day later the Finance Ministers of the G20 countries received a letter signed by 1000 respected economists arguing that the banking sector had been responsible for the finance crisis and urging a small tax on financial transactions, which could raise billions of dollars for development. See Guardian 13 April 2011 for the story and full letter. This action was both technically feasible and morally right, the economists concluded.
Will it wash with voters in the US and elsewhere? One answer comes in today’s Seattle Times, which quotes a recent McClatchy-Marist poll, reporting that two thirds of Americans favour a tax increase for the wealthy. This is good news for anyone concerned to see reductions in environmental pollution and global warming.
*** NOTE: One Trillion dollars = One million million dollars = $1,000,000,000,000