The Danish Prime Minister has summoned world business and political leaders to the bargaining table. Anders Fogh Rasmussen wants the citizens of the gradually greening globe to know that something is quite right in Denmark, although certain rotten states are working against his perspicacious vision.
Employing his time-tested charisma, starry-eyed rhetoric, and free-market antics, the Liberal Danish Premier delivered a climate change address Friday at the Columbia University World Leaders Forum. Rasmussen's three-part speech presented the global energy dilemma, his multifaceted proposal, and his assessment of the prospects for striking a climate change deal when leaders converge upon Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change conference in December 2009.
“If American per capita oil consumption were the same as Denmark's, American oil imports would be reduced by 80%,” argued Rasmussen. Moreover, he stated, the U.S. would save $300 billion per year – instead of transferring this wealth to foreign lands and regimes. While this hypothetical banks upon the nullification of a key difference between the U.S. and Denmark – much larger transport distances – the argument still holds water.
With dwindling energy supplies and quickening global warming, Rasmussen said that one major goal is to keep the global temperature increase at less than 2 degrees Celsius. According to this aim, preemptive measures will ultimately reduce the cost of corrective actions later on. This entails fostering a low carbon economy defined by more stable energy prices and a reliable, secure supply regime.
“Long term costs of inaction outweigh the costs of action now,” said Rasmussen. For the ambitious Dane, a complete overhaul of the energy sector would mean massive shifts in power production, building technology, and transport – which are generally considered the three most power-greedy sectors of the economy. It would also necessitate switching over to an intelligent electricity grid that can draw from a variety of power sources.
But, many skeptics doubt the potential of Rasmussen's proposal. The ornery American energy tendencies could prove to be most insurmountable in the run-up to Copenhagen 2009, which is a key step in the evolution of a globally accepted energy regime. Denmark is expected to establish an ambitious global climate agreement to take effect in 2012, when the the Kyoto Protocol's first 15-year commitment period expires. In the aftermath of the Kyoto Protocol's momentous pronouncements, the world watched as the U.S. buried itself in an energy purgatory. While Al Gore and his partisans have relentlessly been driving for key reforms to American energy policy, the nay-sayers have been all but halting America's progress on this front.
“Those who lead the way will be the industrial icons of the 21st century,” declared Rasmussen, who candidly stated his willingness to work with whoever wins the election on November 4th. He also extolled California's ability to maintain consistent energy consumption over the course of the last three decades, while the U.S.'s overall consumption jumped 60%. Rasmussen heartily encouraged the U.S. to spur on the energy revolution.
Rasmussen claims that the Danish economy has grown by 75% in the past 25 years but experienced no concurrent increase in energy consumption. If only the U.S. could reproduce this feat over the next 25 years!
The affable PM's pitch draws its vitality from the impressive Danish example. Having heavily taxed fossil fuel consumption, cut electricity usage, decreased carbon emissions, and established a carbon trading market, the country will likely remain energy self-sufficient for a generation, according to Columbia President Lee Bollinger, who introduced Prime Minister Rasmussen.
“The American government should lend a helping hand in providing subsidies for the development of wind farms,” said Rasmussen. T. Boone Pickens' American wind power plan is a way for the U.S. to regain its position of leadership in the world, suggested the PM. He said that subsidies for alternative energy development and higher taxes on fossil fuel consumption clearly provide more of an incentive for innovators in the alternative energy field. While the Liberal Rasmussen does not suppose that Smith's Invisible Hand will swat the Pickensian wind mills into action up and down America's prairie, the PM realizes the all governments need to hasten green action in a major way.
Perhaps a far cry from truly “liberal” policy, this center-right baron of Danish-inspired globalization (i.e. Carlsberg, lego, and Skype) is known for paring down the welfare state, de-funding education, and cutting back on immigration. But he sees government as integral to the establishment of a robust and secure energy future. He exhorts the U.S. to take an emboldened role in this evolution of the global energy regime.
In terms of the overall viability of Rasmussen's plan, another concern centers on the funding for decreasing carbon emissions in developing nations. Even pro-globalization development theorists (such as Jagdish Bhagwati, who conducted the Q&A after the Danish PM's speech) point to the reluctance on the part of both 1st World and 3rd World governments to pick up the tab for greening dirty developing economies. Even if developing countries contribute less to global warming, they ought not be given a free ride in the transition to a low carbon world, argued Rasmussen.
Next, questions remain about Europe's ability to consolidate its energy markets in opposition to the eagerly confrontational Russians, who seem bent on withholding gas supplies from Europe as a political weapon. Rasmussen advocates the energy diversification initiatives that would allow northern Europe's wind power and southern Europe's solar power to be exchanged in an elaborate trading system that aims to lower the costs of energy and ensure stability and security in the long-term.
Despite the cultural and social problems that have plagued Rasmussen – most notoriously the Mohammed cartoons and an anti-integrationist Islamism – the Danish premier may be able to transcend these issues in the interest of formulating a globally beneficial energy policy. (After his speech at Columbia, Rasmussen both wished Muslims a “happy Ramadan” and defended the Danish publications' right to free speech in printing the politically incorrect cartoons).
As for the his energy promises, in eight years as Bush's best buddy in Europe, Rasmussen has not managed to persuade Bush to get behind the Danish energy plan. He praised the steps that some American states have taken, including stricter emissions targets, high fuel efficiency standards, carbon trading markets - but emphasized that the U.S. needs to do much better.
Denmark is a respected leader in tech and innovation, partially because of the dismantling of the socialist regulatory framework. As a pioneer of the clean energy movement, especially in wind power generation, Denmark seeks to advertise the business opportunities that abound in the course of preserving the environment. The ultimate message is that, if the U.S. does not heed Rasmussen's advice, enormous wealth transfer out of the U.S. will continue, and unstable oil prices and supply will burden long-term economic growth.