Now the building of more coal-fired power stations or chopping down rain forests, even if on the other side of the world, is a destructive blow at our nations, an act of aggression as much as sending warships to shell New Orleans, or Miami or Harwich. They (politicians) might say that we would have to instruct certain countries to limit their carbon emissions and that if they refuse we should defend ourselves by bombing their power stations, and, yes, sending in troops to protect rain forests.
Taking the work of Kenneth Waltz, in particular in his Theory of International Politics (1979), as representative of this school of thought, this chapter tries to outline how neorealist theory would analyse the politics of global warming. The focus will be on two interrelated forms of neorealist explanation within International Relations; those which focus on power (between states) as the cause of outcomes, and those which focus on anarchy as a generator of outcomes. I will try to suggest why neither gives an adequate account of the politics of global warming, and why both in some senses might be positively dangerous.
The chapter will begin with an exegesis of neorealist theory. It will ignore some aspects which I regard not to be of central relevance for the present purposes. For example, I will not deal with the parts of Waltz’s theory which examine balance-of-power theory, and only touch a little on his treatment of the implications of bipolarity and multipolarity. Following this, I will look at differing neorealist accounts of international cooperation: those based on power, and those based on anarchy, and the logic of collective action. Finally, I will offer an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of neorealism with respect to global warming.