Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 23:05 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 23:05 | SYDNEY

Defining global cooperation up


Sam Roggeveen


3 February 2010 15:44

I've linked approvingly to a number of Walter Russell Mead's blog posts in recent months, notably yesterday to a piece he wrote about the 'death of global warming' (the movement, not the phenomenon). But in a follow-up post, Mead expands on that argument in a way that I think actually weakens it:

The international system isn’t capable of the kind of sweeping, rapid changes and decisions that activists seek. 200 years of human rights campaigns have not eliminated slavery. Nuclear proliferation continues despite more than sixty years of efforts to control it — and the consequences of nuclear war are much more horrible than those of global warming. Piracy, terrorism, tyranny, sexual discrimination: human beings live with many terrible problems that we have not solved. Environmental degradation is one of these problems. 

This strikes me as a bit thin. Sure, we live with terrible problems that haven't been solved, but we've also abolished or ameliorated a great many serious problems, and not a few of them because people and governments found ways to cooperate internationally. As an email correspondent put it to me, 'if we teleported back to Germany immediately after the Thirty Years War with news of what Bismarck would be up to a couple of centuries later – or with news of the emergence of the EU a century after that – we'd have encountered similar incredulity.'

I would add that the Montreal Protocol is a good recent example of successful international cooperation to solve a pressing environmental problem.

I'm certainly open to the idea that activists and governments have over-reached in this case, and that our global governance structures need reform to better cope with challenges like climate change. But to imply that international cooperation is a dead end until it can be shown to have abolished slavery, piracy, terrorism, tyranny and sexism is setting the bar rather high.