Interesting Times: Jihad and carbon

Peres's subtle message: You had better be at least as concerned about terror as you are about warming.

October 11, 2007 17:30
4 minute read.
saul singer 88

saul singer 88. (photo credit: )


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Shimon Peres is such a known quantity in Israel, and even internationally, that his visionary sound-bites have lost much of their punch. Though the presidency provides him, finally, with the most dignified platform for such pronouncements, the symbolic nature of the office also accentuates their airy quality. That said, he is Shimon Peres, and he is the president of Israel. Attention must be paid, therefore, to his maiden speech this week at the opening of the winter session of the Knesset. Its centerpiece was clear and original: "The nations of the world wish to encourage growth, goodwill, competition and cooperation. But two heavy shadows darken this prospect: global terror and global warming. These two dangers are more than strategic risks. They create a historic threat to the security of all countries and the safety of all the inhabitants of the globe." Given Peres's evident indifference to the issue of global warming until recently, the cynical explanation of this juxtaposition would be that he is attempting to hitchhike on the hot global issue. Parsing aside, however, is this formulation useful in our current predicament? THE TRUTH is that Peres is onto something. While global warming is clearly more prominent within the West's zeitgeist, there is no doubt that global terror not only belongs at a comparable level of consciousness, but deserves even higher billing. By pairing the two, Peres's subtle message to the world is important: You had better be at least as concerned about terror as you are about warming. As I have written previously, even though there is substantial scientific agreement over the existence of global warming, the jury is out regarding its implications and causes, let alone what policies might be taken to address it. Meanwhile, old-fashioned pollution of the sort plaguing countries like Russia, China and India - and, to a lesser extent, developed countries like Israel - is an urgent enough global problem that should be addressed. Unfortunately, some of the prescriptions for global warming might actually impede progress on conventional environmental threats, since the record shows that economic development acts first to produce pollution, and then to allow countries to clean it up. Freezing or slowing development could, perversely, lock billions of people precisely in development's dirtiest phase. BUT ASSUME for the moment that we are facing "a true planetary emergency" (Al Gore) and that the costs of saving humanity from its carbon addiction can be mitigated. Gore writes that the Kyoto treaty, if ratified, would cut carbon emissions by "90 percent in developed countries, and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy Earth." This is a gargantuan task by any standard, whether for developed or developing economies. China's carbon emissions are projected to surpass the still-rising US level by 2010. China is building new coal plants at a prodigious rate. "The increase in global-warming gases from China's coal use will probably exceed that for all industrialized countries combined over the next 25 years, surpassing by five times the reduction in such emissions that the Kyoto Protocol seeks," The New York Times reported last year. Turning this freight train around would require unprecedented global cooperation. While advocates have done an impressive job of pumping up the profile of this issue, summit declarations and draft treaties are a far cry from actually taking actions that key countries view as direct threats to their standard of living or their dreams of conquering abject poverty. Advancing such a policy would be tough sledding in a peaceful and increasingly prosperous world in which they were the uncontested top global priority. Imagine, however, trying to coax countries into such fundamental economic reforms during an era of increasing terrorism, new nuclear powers sprouting like mushrooms, and waning American and Western power. If Iran is allowed to cast a nuclear shadow over the global economy, causing it to weaken, environmentalists can forget about persuading governments to risk another blow to their economies by lowering temperatures half a century down the road. For whatever reason, those attuned to the gathering storm of carbon seem blind to the gathering storm of Islamofascism. Peres is right to hint that this won't work. SPEAKING OF Iran, Peres said, "There are those who claim that negotiations should be conducted even with a tyrannical regime. Chamberlain was of this opinion when he flew to negotiate with Hitler and returned to London, where he was received as a hero of peace. In so doing, he, unintentionally, helped Hitler cover his true intentions... The entire world paid a terrible price in blood because it was blinded by Hitler's deceit and lingered in calling the great lie by its name... Sooner or later a new Churchill or a collective Churchill will save the world before it is too late." Some, such as The New York Times's Thomas Friedman, do see these struggles as intersecting. He argues that Western oil dependence is both a strategic and environmental problem. It is certainly maddening that the West finances its enemies at the gas pump. But let's get real: Hybrid cars are great, but they won't exactly cause Ahmadinejad to lose much sleep. Cutting carbon won't stop jihad. But addressing the clear and present danger to freedom and security in the world will at least open up the possibility of addressing other global threats - and opportunities. If the environmental movement is serious regarding the stakes and urgency of its cause, it should not see those concerned about global jihad as raising a distraction, but as allies in removing a serious obstacle to addressing their agenda. Islamofascism not only threatens our way of life; it also threatens to crowd out the panoply of ways that free nations choose to advance themselves, including saving the environment.

- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11

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