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December 17, 2007

U.S. Shamed Into Global Warming Cooperation


It took a humiliating rebuke from Papua-New Guinea, but the United States finally reversed its stance on global warming and announced that it would become part of the worldwide consensus toward finding a solution.


Meanwhile, scientists reported that it’s possible that within five years, we could see an ice-free summer at the North Pole.


Less than an hour after being told to “lead or get out of the way,” the American delegation stopped being the chief impediment toward a replacement treaty to Kyoto, something for which it had been booed during the two-week climate change conference in Bali.


The real test will come in two years, when the conferees will again meet in Denmark to replace Kyoto with something that will hopefully mitigate the worst effects of global climate change.


But it is a start, and a welcome start if something genuine is produced. The chief argument against Kyoto is that it left out developing countries and focused solely on those already developed. Implementation by the United States would have left it at a competitive disadvantage to the rest of the world, while freeing those nations – China, chiefly – that will soon eclipse American contributions to the worldwide greenhouse gas load.


This comes in spite of a relatively new Chinese commitment to the environment, fueled in part by the prospects of global scrutiny during next year’s Olympic Games and also by internal dissent from citizens unhappy with smog-choked cities. Whereas the environment has come to be regarded as something of a chip in American politics, the Chinese have shown a real willingness to solve their own problems.


American unwillingness is the chief reason treaties like Kyoto have become necessary. Wealthy nations, especially those in the Northern Hemisphere, are expected to see the least extreme impacts of climate change. Those most affected with be poor, developing nations in the Southern Hemisphere and especially those with a lot of coastline. In case you’re wondering why Papua-New Guinea would issue such a stinging rebuke of American policy, this should maybe clarify things.


Americans should look north, not south, for evidence of why American intransigence could be costly.


Prospects for an ice-free Arctic Ocean are reminders that preventing human-fueled changes is impossible. We started down this lengthy road of cause and effect a long time ago, and halting it is like trying to stop on a dime a ship roaring across the ocean at flank speed.


If we’re to have ice-free Arctic summers, it will be because it’s taken us so long to acknowledge that the problem exists, not because people will continue to drive SUVs next year.


It isn’t just ocean ice that is melting either. Andy Revkin, a journalist for The New York Times who’s covered global warming for the last couple of years, wrote in his science blog a week or so ago that retreating ice had also forced the U.S. to abandon some of its early warning radars in Alaska. Melting ice had left the foundations weak and unstable.


Real leadership would recognize these things and immediately start moving on the problem, well ahead of a conference yet two years in the future. There are occasional rumblings from Washington, but this presidency was long ago hijacked by its breath-taking foreign policy blunders. It’s a good bet that the entire thing – including how the United States fits into a new international agreement on climate change – will be pushed into the lap of whoever comes next. It could be that the world will have to look to Papua-New Guinea to lead the world, instead of the United States.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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