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Why Bush, Europe See Climate Change Differently

By Peter Brown

Once again President Bush is being slammed by much of the international community. This time it is for his failure to commit the United States to the same steps that are the rage in Europe to deal with rising global temperatures.

This split between Bush and many of America's staunchest allies is really no different than has been the case over other matters.

His critics call him a unilateralist (and other less flattering terms) -- for his tendency to ignore the consensus of the international community. They see this predisposition - Iraq being the best example -- as Bush's greatest flaw.

His supporters admire what they see as common-sense behavior, a willingness to stand up for what he sees as American interests in the face of international opposition.

This is worth remembering when the Europeans and many others pan Bush at the Group of 8 meeting in Germany, which brings together leaders of what were until recently the eight largest industrialized nations.

But globalization has changed the international economic pecking order. Two nations that will be the leaders in the 21st century, China and India, are not members. Their exclusion is especially important when it comes to the climate change issue because they are going to be among the biggest polluters of the future.

Bush's critics describe him as out of touch with environmental reality and a tool of corporate interests unwilling to fix a problem created by the industrial economy. They say that industrialization, which provided Western nations a higher standard of living than the rest of the world for more than a century, is responsible for global warming.

His objections stem from two premises that his contemporaries on the Continent don't share - both of which can be seen as either self-confidence or arrogance, depending on one's underlying view of the president.

He won't commit the United States to expensive fixes that he believes will make American products uncompetitive in the global economy unless the emerging Asian economies are willing to do the same;

He is uncomfortable with giving the United Nations too much say in the global warming debate because of his instinctive distrust of international public opinion.

The political reality is that no one with the political acumen to be elected president is going to sign a deal that puts America at a major disadvantage to our most serious economic competitors.

Let's be clear here. Europe is the past. Asia is the future. The European Union entered the 21st century claiming it would become the United States of Europe - that is an economic super power and a political counterweight to rival Uncle Sam.

The jury's still out, but with double-digit unemployment, staggering social welfare costs and a standard of living roughly two-thirds of ours in much of Western Europe, the United States has little to fear at the moment in that direction.

China, India and the other Asian tigers are a different story. Their economies are growing robustly; their middle classes expanding with jobs that migrated there from the West due to lower labor costs, higher productivity and, in some cases, greater quality.

Those Asian nations have not been asked to institute the same mandatory emissions controls as the G8 because they had little to do with creating the warming problem to begin with. Until recently they had agrarian economies.

Yet the kinds of scrubbers, other pollution controls and limits on carbon dioxide emissions being proposed for the G8 will increase costs that will be passed on to consumers. If those costs are tacked on the goods made by some nations and not others, it's easy to see how that will reshape the world's economic order.

Bush's view is that because the Asian nations will be among the world's largest economies they must be included in any solution. He rejects the Europeans' one-size fits all approach that would require all nations take the same exact steps to meet an emissions reduction target.

Call Bush names if you want. But understand why he is taking the flak.

Peter A. Brown is assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. He can be reached at peter.brown@quinnipiac.edu

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