4th major oil shock in 30 years

No let-up in fossil fuel consumption. Why?

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- THE Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has decided to ratify the Kyoto Protocol (it seeks to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere). That should soon propel the languishing pact into force, making it international law, once he has sought the Russian Duma's approval (see Almost there). But the pact would still not bind the world's biggest polluter -- the US -- to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

US president George W Bush pulled out of the treaty in 2001. Even today, he shows no inclination to reconsider that decision. The forthcoming US presidential election in November offers no hope either. Bush is clear. He will not risk sacrificing jobs he believes will be lost in the US if he ratifies the treaty. His opponent, John Kerry, has criticised Bush for pulling out and "not even accepting the science". But if Kerry becomes president, he isn't likely to reverse Bush's decision. Why? For one, in 1997, he voted against the treaty in the US Senate. And according to British prime minister Tony Blair, the US' closest ally, opinion in the Senate has not changed much since 1997 (then, it voted against the treaty 95-0). Secondly, the American appetite for highly fuel-inefficient sports utility vehicles shows no signs of waning. The policy that classifies these vehicles as light trucks -- allowing them to escape more stringent emission requirements such as those mandated for passenger vehicles -- hasn't changed. Nor will it. Any attack on this policy structure is sure to be construed as an attack on American lifestyle. Who can do that?

What, then, could reduce the US' insatiable thirst for oil? Soaring crude oil prices? At US $54 a barrel, one expects the average American to feel the squeeze. Perhaps they are. But policymakers remain unfazed. They aren't talking of any major change in policy to secure reliable and sustainable energy at affordable prices. Neither are the presidential candidates. That is not to say that Kerry would let go of the opportunity to make a dig at Bush, accusing him of "siding with his friends in the oil industry" over ordinary people. But that is all he did! No alternative strategies. No promise of leading the world along the path of sustainable energy consumption. No commitment to give up its unilateral ways and support willing nations in their battle against global warming.

The threshold price of oil was once considered US $50 a barrel. But, with that level now breached, it seems that even US $54 a barrel will not quell the US' thirst for oil. They will continue to consume, continue to pollute and continue to renege on their responsibility to curb global warming.

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