Climate Change Justice

By Eric A. Posner; David Weisbach | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Symbols, Not Substance

Climate change has attracted an enormous amount of attention around the world and has generated immense activity in the form of legislation, regulation, diplomatic negotiations, international conferences, and meetings, but to date, this activity has yielded very little of substance. Most of the legislation and other forms of government action that have taken place have been largely symbolic. This is particularly true of the government measures taken so far in the United States, most of them at the state and local levels. More significant measures, notably the European Union's Emission Trading System, have produced far less than advertised, and are wholly inadequate by themselves to address the climate problem. Symbols, not substance, have been the order of the day.

And this speaks just of the developed world. In the developing world, arguments that poor countries should cut back on greenhouse gas emissions have been met with hostility. These countries have done little, even symbolically, to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and indeed over the last twenty years, the growth of global emissions has occurred mainly because of the economies of the developing world. Rapidly developing countries fear the political instability that could occur if emission limits suddenly derailed economic growth. Some of these countries, such as China, India, and Brazil, finally can imagine western living standards for many of their citizens and the kind of global influence that has long been denied to them despite their size and importance—and now western countries tell them that they are growing too fast. Many other developing countries are simply very poor and fear the consequences of higher energy prices

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