In his book, “The Informant”, Kurt Eichenwald reveals the extent of corruption rife in US industry, and at one industrial giant in particular, the Archer Daniel Midland Corporation of Decatur, Illinois. That corruption spills over into pollution. Eichenwald notes early on in his book how the stench from ADM fails to bother Decatur residents:
“Locals often joked it was just the smell of money being made.”
Five days of each week I drive past the filthiest, vilest, most stinking, particulate pollution I have encountered since the days of 1950’s Britain; days when factory chimneys belched forth their unchecked poisonous cocktails that directly resulted in dense, choking, smog killing thousands of people every winter.
Thankfully, British governments took action and forced industry to clean up its act. Now, strict pollution laws with efficient Environmental Health Departments to police them means most Brits can breathe clean, mostly unpolluted, air wherever they live in the country.
Heartland America is like 1950’s Britain.
There is a difference, however. In the US the government isn’t on the side of the people, as were the British governments of the fifties and sixties, it’s a tool of industry. The so-called Environmental Protection Agency is a farce, a pussy cat with no teeth.
Back in 1950’s Britain, the problem was local. Today, it is global. While much of the particulate pollution has gone from mainland Britain, gaseous emissions – the earth-warming gases of carbon dioxide, methane, and others, remain to some degree.
At the beginning of the 21st century, a protocol to the international Framework Convention on Climate Change was agreed in principle, and entered into force in 2005. That preliminary agreement became well known as the Kyoto Protocol.
To date, 176 parties have ratified Kyoto. Two major exceptions are the US and Australia.
With a recent change of government in the latter continent it seems likely Australia will be on board quite soon. Indeed, Kevin Rudd, the new Australian prime minister, campaigned on signing up to Kyoto.
Once again, it seems, the United States under George W Bush is to be isolated. (Some will argue Canada is also not a signatory to Kyoto, but that is untrue. Canada signed, but for complex political reasons mainly involving its economic partnerships with the US, is faltering after a change of government).
It’s become fashionable within the United States to criticize the Kyoto Protocol as ineffective. George W Bush began this trend early in his presidency as an underhand means of defending his lack of any positive environmental policy. One would expect this type of reaction from such an intellectual midget, but sadly, Bush’s views have permeated through to many of the pseudo-intellectual liberal elite of this nation who, while condemning Bush’s policies, trash Kyoto as ineffective.
Kyoto may not be the complete answer to global warming, but I get a little tired of ‘Kyoto bashing’. Bush & Co have done enough of it, without supposedly saner individuals jumping on the bandwagon. Kyoto is a commitment. It may not be a particularly binding commitment but it’s a start. It’s better than no commitment, and the US, at a federal level, has made no commitment whatever to combat global warming. While everyone sits around intellectually debating what’s right and what’s wrong, the planet is blowing up in our faces.
Kyoto was never more than a baseline to build from, a show of willingness to participate. Industrialized nations who refuse to sign it put greed and power above saving possibly billions of lives.
The cry goes out, “Why should we suffer while China continues to pollute and will soon overtake America as the biggest polluter on the planet?”
Stop blaming China. China hasn’t caused the problem, and European governments were cutting environmental pollution, albeit for less global reasons, when the phrase hadn’t even been invented in the States. What the US needs is a government with teeth. One that legislates to force motor manufacturers to produce cleaner, more economical cars (French cars of two liter capacity regularly return over 60 mpg, and out-perform their US counterparts) and corporates to clean up their filthy polluting industries. Then, and only then, can they a) begin to pressure China, and b) criticize the Kyoto Protocol.
Much is being made of the individual’s contribution towards saving the planet. Industry makes more profits from producing products that help us be “greener”. Yet industry is doing little to put its own house in order, and compared to industry the individual’s efforts are a drop in the ocean, particularly when many of the “greener” products are produced by factories continuing to pollute.
The US has no federal legislation governing the emission of carbon dioxide by industry at this time. The EPA lists six major pollutants covered by the 1990 Clean Air Act, but CO2 is not among them, and even though emissions of the six pollutants are supposedly limited, industry disregards the legislation with impunity.
American isolationism doesn’t work anymore. We are now a global community facing a global threat that requires global solutions. The Kyoto Protocol was an attempt to make that happen. Nation’s are struggling to meet the demands of Kyoto and the situation is aggravated by a US determined to sabotage it in the short-term interest of capital gain.
Meanwhile, for five days each week I continue to drive past the filthiest, vilest, most stinking, particulate pollution I have encountered since the days of 1950’s Britain. It emanates from the Archer Daniel Midland Corporation and its (now) subsidiary, Tate & Lyle. In 2002, apparently the last year of available figures, the Political Economy Research Institute compiled its list of top 100 US polluters. The Archer Daniel Midland Corporation was ranked tenth, above the Dow Chemical Company.
Of course, in our town – a ‘company town’ – nobody objects, nobody complains.
It is, after all, “just the smell of money being made.”