Goose? Or propaganda?

| 1st December 2005
When Governments try to reassure the public with announcements about how much they are doing to solve problems like bird flu or global warming, it just avoids the real question - how did we get into this in the first place?

Christmas is a-coming
The geese are getting flu
Please to have a jab
Or it’s the end of you

At the beginning of November, US President George Bush unveiled his plan to protect the people of his country against the possible threat of bird flu. It was a simple plan: he called for $7.1 billion to be set aside to stockpile drugs, vaccines, and develop new technology
to combat the disease. That’s an awful lot of money to combat a viral form that, as far as we know, doesn’t even exist yet. In her article on page 14, Pat Thomas discusses at length the likelihood of the virus mutating into a form that can be transmitted by the human
population. So if we don’t yet have anything to cure, shouldn’t much of the effort go towards preventing an outbreak in the first place? Towards finding ways of containing the virus before it mutates? Towards compensating those many farmers around the world whose livelihoods will be lost through the slaughtering
of their stock?

Of that $7.1 billion, a mere $250 million has been set aside for containment of the disease outside America. That’s about 3.5 per cent of the overall package: 3.5 per cent for prevention of a disease that doesn’t yet exist, 96.5 per cent for a cure should it happen.

These are Bushian principles at their very best and, global warmongering apart, are what will characterise his presidency once these frightful eight years are over. Ignore a drama until it turns into a media crisis, then throw big bucks at it to show what a great firefighter you are. He did nothing to prepare when warned that a hurricane might ravage his country’s east coast; he ignored warnings that NASA’s space shuttle programme was under-funded and unsafe until the Columbia disaster occurred in 2003; he has repeatedly pooh-poohed scientific insistence that the world is under threat from global warming. This is what happens when you hire a man with no vision to assume a preeminent role in a changing world. Incapable of genuine reform and constructive action, those intangible betterments that take years to bear fruit, he will seek quick-fix victories to temporary, often self-made battles in order to
maintain his standing.

Meanwhile, as Bush fiddles with the so-called threat of terrorism, the threats of true natural disasters continue to burn. Bush might like to think of himself as the Arnie Schwarzenegger of international politics – storming into town with guns blazing and shooting all the bad guys – but this isn’t Hollywood, this is the real world, and life continues well after the closing credits roll.

Even Arnie gets that. In California, the muscle-bound governor is taking action of his own. He has set a target of forcing car manufacturers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a third over the next decade. There will be legal challenges of course, and he’s a long way from getting the legislation through, but it’s a bold step. And he’s not alone. No fewer than nine states, including New York, have declared that they will set legal limits on emissions from power stations, while a consortium of mayors, representing 40 million people across the country, have announced that they intend to adopt Kyoto targets to reduce harmful emissions.

This isn’t just based on a desire simply to do the right thing, of course. Many American multinational companies are realising that as the world moves towards a low-carbon rating, they’ll get left behind in the international marketplace. The Bush administration might
not be listening, but the federal network is beginning to.

Ten states have already pledged to try to make a difference and, without doubt, others will follow. Suddenly, the scientific and popular concern about global warming has mutated into a political concern in America, and is spreading very rapidly, infecting more and more of the political population of the nation’s federal structure, undermining national government in the process.

This will be a remarkable test of Bush and his Republican administration. They will not be able to ignore the spread of ideological change through their nation, and neither, for fear of isolating themselves, will they be able to fight it.

Right now, they must be feeling pretty sick.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist December 2005


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