Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

High-Water Mark

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Gaia (Monday March 12, 2007 at 7:51 pm)

The fight over global warming may be a bout that lifts all tides, but its god-child Kyoto, may ultimately prove a peril to the environmental movement. A bit counter-intuitive, yes, but there’s a reason for thinking so.

Kyoto provides a beautiful confluence of messages. If you’re for “keeping Canada in Kyoto”, you’re arguing for Canada to honour international agreements, which plays to the Canadian’s identity as a good international player, either flattering her for being one, or shaming her for not being one. It also makes the choice to be an environmentalist easy: you’re either for Kyoto and the environment, or against Kyoto and the environment. The fact that there are costs for being for Kyoto is as nebulous to the average person as the fact that there are costs for being against Kyoto. Therefore, saving those already interested in environmentalism, these considerations don’t really play into the mix.

What pro-Kyoto advocates therefore have at their disposal is the combined force of international goodwill (comity) and environmentalism with no evident costs. That’s a great message and an easy sell.

Which is where trouble lurks. The ease of selling “let’s do Kyoto” (try pronouncing “do” as “dough” — it helps) will boost the ranks of supporters, but the costs associated with implementing it may not prove as alluring to the general public. That means that at least some of those who now join the green chorus are likely to leave when talk turns from agreeing to meet Kyoto standards and doing what’s necessary.

And this is where environmentalists may run into future problems. Messaging for specific choices, such as reduced automobile use and changes in power consumption patterns isn’t gifted with the same embarassment of riches as pro-Kyotoness; and some possibilities, such as alternative fuels (nuclear, wind, solar) are contentious even among hard-core adherents to the environmental banner.

All of which means that winning the Kyoto issue may make it harder for the movement to get the actual policies it demands passed. Setting aside all nefarious purposes, it might be more beneficial, in the end, for them to avoid engaging Kyoto, providing (at least until 2012) a suitable hook for whatever other policies they hope to boost. It will be easier to justify other policies to compensate for non-compliance with Kyoto than to justify those policies once Kyoto is put in place.

If so, Kyoto’s adoption may prove an uncomfortable high-water mark for environmentalists; and that bodes careful consideration of the issue’s role in their longer-term strategy.

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