We find the U.S. guilty ...

Why the WTO should investigate Bush's pro-business protectionism.

Published February 21, 2006 5:56PM (EST)

How's this for the lead sentence of a news article from the near future: "The World Trade Organization has ruled that the United States broke international trade rules by failing to curb carbon emissions."

Say what? Have I had too much coffee this morning while trying to come up for air from a three-day weekend? No, actually, I'm just riffing on a suggestion on how to effectively combat global warming by former World Bank chief economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz. In an interview published by the Independent on Monday, Stiglitz makes the argument that by refusing to impose limits on carbon emissions, the U.S. government is de facto subsidizing U.S. industry. Such subsidies are illegal under WTO rules.

A three-judge court at the WTO made news two weeks ago when it issued a preliminary ruling in favor of the U.S., declaring that the E.U.'s ban on GM foods was not scientifically valid, and thus guilty of violating international trade rules. So isn't it time to turn the tables? A vast preponderance of scientific evidence indicates that the world is warming quickly, that human activity is largely to blame and that carbon-dioxide emissions are a primary villain. But the "pro-business" Bush administration refuses to take action.

When a developing nation tries to be "pro-business" and enact trade barriers to protect domestic industries from competition, U.S. trade negotiators get all huffy. But one suspects that pointing out that inaction on global warming is its own kind of pro-business trade subsidy is going to meet with deaf ears at the White House. So I'm with Stiglitz: It's time for the world to take the U.S. to court and sue its fat, polluting ass off. And spare us from the ripostes of free-market evangelists with their infantile environmentalism = economic suicide arguments. An efficiently functioning free market depends on good information to set fair prices. Such information has to include the potentially devastating effects on the environment, public health and the global economy that will inevitably rain down upon the world if we fail to meet the challenge of global warming.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Global Warming Globalization How The World Works