Zugzwang …

by John Quiggin on June 5, 2007

… is a term from chess meaning compulsion to move. Most of the time, it’s an advantage to have the next move, but there are situations, particularly in the endgame when you’d much rather it was the other player’s turn.

So it has been with climate change, at least for some players in the game. The big divide in the negotiations for the Kyoto protocol was between the more developed countries, which had created the problem and continued to produce most emissions of greenhouse gases, and the less developed, which were the main source of likely future growth. The agreement reached was that the developed countries would make the first round of cuts, reducing emissions below 1990 levels* by 2012, after which a more comprehensive agreement would require contributions from everyone.

As soon as the Bush Administration was elected though, it denounced this as unfair and said the US would do nothing unless China and India moved first. The Howard government, until then a fairly enthusiastic proponent of Kyoto, immediately echoed the Bush line. Meanwhile, not surprisingly, China and India stuck to the agreement they’d signed and ratified.

The resulting standoff suited lots of people. Most obviously, while the Bushies were denouncing the unfair advantages given to China and India, they were also pushing as hard as they could to ensure that they and other developing countries did nothing that would facilitate a post-Kyoto agreement. And of course plenty of people in China and India were happy enough not to have to take any hard decisions on the topic.

In the last month or so, this has all started to fall apart. The Australian policy debate has shifted to the point where Howard has had to announce support both for emissions trading and for the logical corollary, binding targets for emissions reductions, though he still refuses to give any actual numbers. China and India have agreed to negotiate a post-Kyoto agreement by 2009, though they are still resisting targets.

That has left Bush isolated. Only a week or so ago, the Administration contemptuously rejected a draft G8 meeting statement on climate change prepared by the Germans, who are hosting the meeting. But as Bush’s lame-duck status has become increasingly apparent, his capacity to throw his weight around has diminished. The reaction from the Germans, and the rest of the Europeans was ferocious. It became clear that the G8 meeting would be a failure, possibly even ending with an overt statement of disagreement, although (as far as I can tell) such an outcome is viewed by those who run these events as unthinkable.

As with his response the recent Supreme Court decision requiring the EPA to control CO2 emissions, Bush responded with a plan that would have no effect until late 2008, by which time his term would be nearly finished. As Dan Froomkin observed, the US reaction showed that Bush still knows how to play the American press like a harp, but the European reaction ranged from tepid (those who interpreted Bush as offering largely meaningless rhetoric) to hostile (those who viewed him as attempting to derail the post-Kyoto process). And this gradually fed back into US coverage.

So, the pieces are moving again, and the system o mutually supportive intransigence is breaking down. It remains to be seen if anything positive can be achieved, but the untenability of Bush’s position is now clear for all to see.

  • Australia held out for a special deal, allowing an 8 per cent increase, then decided not to ratify anyway.

{ 22 comments }

1

bi 06.05.07 at 9:07 am

“Kupchan said the general view in Europe was, ‘Let’s be patient, November 2008 is coming,’ referring to the next U.S. presidential election, which will herald the end of Bush’s term.”

2008 is coming indeed. Will the AEI review the essay submissions for its global warming denialist conference just in time for Bush’s glorious retirement?

(The porn link spammage is back yet again, by the way.)

2

Slocum 06.05.07 at 12:12 pm

What Bush should have done is to adopt a carbon-trading system like the European one where extra credits are handed out like candy at a parade to national industries who can then turn around and sell them to make windfall profits (just before the whole market collapses):

The 2005 data showed that industry emitted 66m tonnes less carbon than allowed, prompting allegations that, in Germany alone, the four big power producers had enjoyed windfall profits of up to €8bn by cashing in their excess free carbon permits. In Britain, despite the tighter cap, generators are estimated to have made £1bn.

http://environment.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,,2048918,00.html

So there seem to be European as well as American forms of Zugzwang (can you imagine the howls of outrage if Bush’s ‘oil buddies’ had been the ones reaping the huge windfall selling excess carbon credits that were handed to them for free — just before the whole market did an Enron-style implosion and the price of credits dropped to zero?)

And I’m just not sure why there’s an unexamined assumption that the Democratic administration we’re likely to get in 2009 is going to sign up for mandatory emissions targets for the U.S. while leaving China free to keep building new coal-fired plants at a rate of one a week — given the current Democratic tendencies toward populism, protectionism, and China bashing.

The increases in U.S. gasoline prices are now pushing U.S. drivers toward greater fuel-efficiency, so Bush’s Democratic opponents think the rise is a good thing, right? Yeah, right:

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003719696_gasgouging24m.html

3

SamChevre 06.05.07 at 1:25 pm

As soon as the Bush Administration was elected though, it denounced this as unfair and said the US would do nothing unless China and India moved first.

Actually, the Senate had voted 95-0 against even considering ratifying the Kyoto treaty before Bush was elected.

4

Sebastian Holsclaw 06.05.07 at 4:30 pm

The US Senate had rejected Kyoto under Clinton. Fashionable as it is to blame Bush for everything, the US was done with Kyoto before he was president. Clinton continued a diplomatic farce, pretending that he could negotiate what the Senate had clearly rejected. I suppose Europeans might have fallen for that, though I had heard they were better at diplomatic understanding.

Kyoto isn’t supposed to be damaging to the economy anyway according to the rhetoric. So unilaterally implement it, develop the expensive technology, and the US will probably copy it in about 10 or 15 years. Consider it a downpayment on medical technology. ;)

5

Matt Weiner 06.05.07 at 4:54 pm

Consider it a downpayment on medical technology. ;)

Do give it a rest.

6

mpowell 06.05.07 at 5:14 pm

Actually slocum, I would describe the rise in domestic gas prices as a good thing. It should encourage less gasoline consumption and, at the same time, people are blaming Bush for it.

Of course, that discontent does highlight, to a certain degree, the tricky political climate in the United States on environmental issues. But I don’t understand what your point is. Effective policy may be politically unpopular in the United States so politicians should be applauded for doing nothing? That’ll be really helpful when Manhattan is under water.

7

lemuel pitkin 06.05.07 at 6:25 pm

I would describe the rise in domestic gas prices as a good thing.

So would I. But as a criticism of high-profile elected Dems, the criticism is, unfortunately, entirely fair.

8

mpowell 06.05.07 at 6:49 pm

Entirely fair? Really? I don’t see how. I think most of the blame attaches to the president for his middle east policy and I think that’s how the public sees it. That perception will shift once a Democratic president settles into office in ’08 and the Dems will have to deal with that political reality at that time.

9

gmoke 06.05.07 at 7:12 pm

Individual US states will probably be joining the EU carbon trading regime within the next year or so no matter who becomes President in 2008. Unfortunately, my gut tells me this is likely to be a case of too little too late.

I think the die was cast back in 1980 when Reagan was elected and Carter’s plan of producing 20% of US energy from renewables by 2000 was kiboshed pretty damn good. Reagan killed us.

10

John Quiggin 06.05.07 at 8:26 pm

Quoting the 1997 Senate vote is rather silly, given that McCain-Lieberman got 43 votes, despite vigorous opposition from the Bush Administration.

And, to be clear it was a statement of opinion about what they would or would not agree to, not a vote on ratification.

11

thag 06.05.07 at 9:06 pm

“a term from chess meaning compulsion to the move”

jq, i just don’t understand this. is the word “the” there by mistake? (in which case “to move” turns into an infinitive instead of a prep. phrase with a noun “the move”.)

in which case it is a nomimalisation of “A was compelled to move”, and i can make sense of it.

as it stands, it looks like maybe “the move” is a noun-phrase being characterised by saying that there is some compulsion in it??? e.g. “i added some compulsion to the move”??

or is this some chess jargon i don’t know? or what?

Fixed now. Sorry about that. JQ

12

blue 06.05.07 at 9:08 pm

how about that–Sebastian Holsclaw shilling for Big Pharma again.

it’s almost like he’s a paid corporate hack or something.

13

George W 06.05.07 at 11:24 pm

“Quoting the 1997 Senate vote is rather silly”

But true, and relevant. Setting aside the actual merits of the treaty, it still amazes me that not one single US Senator — not Kennedy, not Wellstone, nobody — was willing to stand up even for voting on it.

Not so amazing that you would fail to mention it.

14

Neil 06.05.07 at 11:32 pm

“Zugzwang” is a perfectly ordinary German word. I’ve never heard it used in a chess context. Freud used it a lot.

15

Slocum 06.06.07 at 12:28 am

Of course, that discontent does highlight, to a certain degree, the tricky political climate in the United States on environmental issues. But I don’t understand what your point is.

My point is that focusing on Bush exclusively as the cause of the U.S. failure to sign on to Kyoto is a mistake and that if you automatically expect major changes in the U.S. global-warming position with a new administration in 2009, you’re likely to be disappointed.

Entirely fair? Really? I don’t see how. I think most of the blame attaches to the president for his middle east policy

As far as gas prices go, the recent problem hasn’t been the price of crude oil but the limited refining capacity. And refiners won’t build new plants because of NIMBYism and regulation and because of the enormous investments required. They’re even reluctant to expand existing plants because it doesn’t make economic sense — based on a (reasonable) belief that we’re transitioning into a post gasoline era and that demand will begin to decline fairly soon (soon meaning a few years rather than weeks or months).

Individual US states will probably be joining the EU carbon trading regime within the next year or so no matter who becomes President in 2008.

Not if this happens:

Dems drafting bill that could derail state warming law
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/06/05/MNG44Q7OS01.DTL

“The proposal was written by Rep. Rick Boucher, a Democrat who represents a coal-producing district in southwest Virginia and chairs the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee charged with crafting climate change legislation. The full committee’s chairman, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., a longtime ally of the auto industry, also played a key role in putting together the new legislation.”

16

Alison 06.06.07 at 3:17 am

Not just Bush.

Mini-Bush: PM Stephen Harper of Canada

http://www.thestar.com/News/article/221577

Merkel, who as chair of the G-8 has moved climate change to the top of the leaders’ agenda, told CBC TV yesterday she is disappointed with the Harper government’s rejection of the emissions-reduction targets Canada previously accepted under the Kyoto pact.

“Of course, we are not happy at this point that Canada has abandoned Kyoto’s goals,” she said.

17

aa 06.06.07 at 4:07 am

#14. This is a bit like saying you haven’t heard “wave” used in the context of physics. It’s eminently possible. As it happens, the meaning in chess is unrelated in every way to the topic of this post, which could just as well be titled “Dragosta din tei”, a term which in chess means “Love from the linden trees.” Global warming is more in the vein of self mate.

18

ejh 06.06.07 at 8:27 am

is a term from chess meaning compulsion to move.

Well, sort of. It means “compulsion to move in a situation where all moves are disastrous”. You’re always compelled to move when it’s your turn – unless you wish to resign. But when zugzwang exists, you’re compelled to bring about your downfall.

This is an easy example to understand and the Sämisch-Nimzowitsch game given lower down is indeed the classic instance from master praxis.

19

john m. 06.06.07 at 8:40 am

It means “compulsion to move in a situation where all moves are disastrous”. You’re always compelled to move when it’s your turn – unless you wish to resign.

Oh I get it – it’s a synonym for “troop surge”.

20

John M 06.06.07 at 9:11 am

“Well, sort of. It means “compulsion to move in a situation where all moves are disastrous”.”

I think it means something more like ‘compulsion to move in a situation where it can only be to your disadvantage’. The first move of the game is a zugzwang situation: whatever you do will weaken your position.

21

ejh 06.06.07 at 9:17 am

No, that’s wrong. Yes, anything you do will in some way weaken your position (so for example if you play 1.e4, you weaken the f2 square) but you expect to gain advantages (control of the d5 square, ability to develop the kingside pieces) which more than compensate.

In zugzwang, it’s all downside.

22

Stuart 06.06.07 at 9:49 am

Oh I get it – it’s a synonym for “troop surge”.

Surely Iraq isn’t a good example of Zugzwang, as then if the US forces did nothing for a while then they would get to a better position, whereas in fact whether they do anything or not the situation gets worse (maybe at different rates). In chess terms it would be as if the insurgents had moved to a successful endgame and declared ‘checkmate in n moves’ and the US has ignored that despite it being to everyone watching the game and played on so it could lose more pieces and prove to itself it really has lost.

Comments on this entry are closed.