The weekend before President Clinton’s State of the Union Address, the Wall Street Journal assembled a focus group of middle-class white males to plumb the depth of their proverbial anger. These guys are mad as hell. They’re mad at welfare, they’re mad at special-interest lobbyists. “But perhaps the subject that produces the most agreement among the group,” the Journal reports, is the view that Washington should stop sending money abroad and instead zero in on the domestic front.
“a poll released last week[1995, ed.] by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland which stated that 75% of Americans believes that the US spends “too much” on foreign aid, and 64% want foreign aid spending cut. Apparently a cavalier 11% of Americans think it’s fine to spend “too much” on foreign aid. Respondents were also asked, though, how big a share of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. The median answer was 15%; the average answer was 18% the correct answer is less than 1%. A question about how much would be “too little” produced a median answer of 3%–more than three times the current level of foreign aid spending.
Wisely transferring money from rich people or countries to poorer people or countries is one of the keystones to good public policy. To the extent we care about it, it’s one of the ways we construct an equitable society and definitely one of the ways we do things like secure the peace (Marshall Plan), bribe the enemy (Iraq) and otherwise incentivize behavior on the part of our strategic partners (examples too numerous to list). This goes doubly for trying to effect lower CO2 emissions around the globe. But we only need to look to the above to see how far the rock will fly.
And while we also spend money in a multitude of horrific ways around the globe, the idea of climate debt was a subject of some contention at COP15. Grist hits a good tee shot on the subject.
The climate pollution already in the atmosphere has “locked in” a certain degree of climate change. Since rich nations produced the bulk of historical pollution, they bear the bulk of the responsibility for the damages that result. Those damages will fall disproportionately on the world’s poorest countries, which bear the least responsibility. Given the situation, rich countries are obliged to help poor countries pay to adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects.
How we get on the green from there, well… it’s an open question as to whether the debt model is the right one. But how ever we come to frame climate justice – and it’s going to be Orwellian orchid sex if there’s ever been any – it must result in the further collapse of the detachment and separation model featuring the highly useful us/them split, of which climate change is the biggest harbinger of all time. It’s why we hate it – odorless, borderless and raceless.