The United States and Great Britain share a common language, a passion for football and, when it comes to government response to global warming, nothing much else.
On Wednesday, when the Kyoto Protocol becomes international law, only one will be sulking loutishly on the sidelines: the United States.
While the Bush administration unrolls phrases like “climate variability” to test the drape of its message on the foreshortened frame of American public opinion, the original Red Coats do not mince words.
Britain’s chief science adviser, David King, calls global warming a more serious threat than terror.
Perhaps the great girth of the states, padded with purple mountain majesties, amber waves of grain, pickup trucks and SUVs, insulates Americans from what troubles the British.
The Bush administration partly accounts for its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol because China and India would not join this coalition of the willing.
One wry cartoonist depicts Democratic blue, coastal states disappearing when the sea level rises as a result of global warming, leaving only dry, Republican red.
Then there is the Rapture Index, where climate chaos is a step in the right direction.
Not all evangelical Christians have their headlights turned bright for signs of the Second Coming, but the ones who do make the Anglicans cringe.
There is a better perch than a church pew to make sense of global warming: insurance, what people buy when prayer won’t do.
Insurance is the one business sector instantly affected by unpredictable weather extremes.
The world’s largest reinsurer, Munich RE, according to Bloomberg, a financial news service, “expects damage from natural disasters to rise ‘exponentially’ in the coming years, triggered by human-driven climate changes such as global warming.”
So does Lloyd’s of London, the British institution in which the very rich invest their capital to generate legendary returns.
To Americans, Lloyd’s may be odd as tea and crumpets, but there is nothing like unlimited liability to rattle the bones of shareholders.
The egalitarian world of American commerce is racing in the other direction.
In America, conservative talk-show hosts spin woozy jeremiads against environmentalists, urging millions of people to stare cross-eyed at heaven so the ensuing debate is never about the liability we incur for breathing fumes of the delusional and all about whether there are one, two or three faces of long-deceased presidents in the moon.
Meanwhile, the global insurance industry has already settled on the fact of global warming.
President Bush, in his recent State of the Union address, made more out of stopping gang violence in the nation’s cities than the violence of U.S. indifference to climate change, which conflates with language like, “You are either with us, or, against us” in a jarringly imperious way.
Were the Bush administration to buy insurance, it would be to protect public officials in the case that accountability to global warming starts leaking into the public imagination.
No wonder, according to the Guardian UK, “Lobby groups funded by the U.S. oil industry are targeting Britain in a bid to play down the threat of climate change and derail action to cut greenhouse gas emissions . . . Bob May, president of the Royal Society, says that ‘a lobby of professional skeptics who opposed action to tackle climate change’ is turning its attention to Britain because of its high profile in the debate.”
What’s an industry to do, after all, with a customer base—America—that represents 5 percent of the world’s population and produces more than 20 percent of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide? Protect it?
The global insurance industry should simply refuse to underwrite business lines of the fossil-fuel lobby that are taking down billions of profit at its expense. Let the opportunists self-insure.
“Nothing can come of nothing,” King Lear said before facing the raging storm that will be nothing in comparison to what happens if Atlantic warming currents cool in a non-linear way.
To the United States, the Kyoto Protocol is not worth a farthing.
On the other hand, the U.S. dollar has fallen more than 30 percent against the euro. In places like Florida, with hundreds of billions in vulnerable coastal real estate, insurance companies are seeking homeowners’ rate increases of more than 20 percent.
Balancing these phenomena requires a stout constitution. Bush’s view is that we are confident and strong. He certainly is
Go figure. Great Britain, once an empire, takes its vanishing coastlines seriously. A nation that is an empire, the United States, stands resolute in the rising tide of others’ diminishing expectations.
On the dollar and global warming, the rest of the world is placing its bets