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Published on Sunday, April 1, 2001 in the Toronto Star
Corporate America Calling All the Shots
by Richard Gwyn
 
DESPITE THE outrage of environmentalists, President George W. Bush's cancellation of the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse gas emissions is not, in itself, a fatal setback to the campaign to limit global warming.

Instead, what is fatal is the reason Bush took this step. It's the first of many like it that will be coming.

Bush's argument that the Kyoto treaty is flawed is not without merit. This is true even though many of these flaws have been deliberately manufactured by the U.S. and some other developed countries, Canada among them, all of which have engaged in prolonged foot-dragging and legalistic evasions of the Kyoto requirements to the point that many of its original provisions could not be filled even if the political will to do so still existed

(Specifically, the U.S., Canada and others, have wasted time trying to get other signatory countries to allow them to engage in a quite fraudulent emissions credit scheme. This would allow wealthy nations to exceed their pollution limits provided they bought emission credits from countries, such as Russia and Ukraine, which are already well below their targets but only because their economies are in a shambles so that industries are not producing pollutants or anything at all.)

The lethal aspect of Bush's action does not reside in the specifics of what he's said he won't do (without having bothered to say what he will do to combat global warming).

It resides, instead, in Bush's ideology or, more exactly, in his instinct.

Bush is against the Kyoto treaty because he is for business. In turn, business American business, that's to say is against any meaningful attack on greenhouse gases and equally against any other consequential environmental protection measures, meaning those that might be expensive, and time-consuming and effective.

Within two months of taking office, Bush has morphed from the compassionate conservative he called himself during last year's presidential campaign, to a conservative conservative, that's to say, an uncritically pro-business conservative.

This shift was always predictable. It's its speed and scale that is striking and that should be deeply worrying.

The cancellation of the Kyoto treaty is only one example among an expanding number.

A fortnight ago, Bush broke a campaign promise to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, even though his top environmental official, Christine Todd Whitman, had repeated the pledge only a week earlier. He took this action after fierce lobbying by the coal and oil industries.

Either in the White House or among Republican senators and representatives, who hold majorities in both houses, measures are under way to ease clean-air requirements for coal-fired power plants, to loosen federal standards on river flows to protect fish, to allow states to control drilling rights on some federal lands and, the best known pro-business action of all, to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration.

These actions are justified by the need to deal with a supposed energy crisis, even though no discernible crisis, as opposed to a temporary shortage, exists and even though energy supply could best be improved by tightening the regulations with regard to the efficient production and use of energy.

The pro-business thrust is elsewhere. Congress has cancelled planned workplace rules on repetitive strain injury that had been worked on for 10 years. It plans to limit corporate liability for faulty products and it is reviving a bankruptcy protection law vetoed by former president Bill Clinton.

Last week, a prominent conservative, Edwin J. Fuelner, boasted that the Bush administration is more Reaganite than the Ronald Reagan administration.

The comment is entirely correct. Not since the 1950s has a cabinet been so overwhelmingly a graduate class of Corporate America, from ex-oil types like Bush, himself, and Vice-President Dick Cheney and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, to ex-corporate types like Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil.

The integration of the Canadian and American economies effected by the free trade pact of 1989 is thus about to be put to its first, full political test. Most of the time, Clinton's centrist liberalism allowed Canada a fair amount of wriggle room to continue to act in our own best national interest, as we saw it.

From now on, Canada's national standards are going to be under intensifying pressure to accommodate not just the standards of the U.S., but, as will be far more intrusive of our national space, the standards of Corporate America.

Will our national motto change, from "From Sea to Sea" to "From General Electric to General Motors?"

Copyright 1996-2001. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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