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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.
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.
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
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.
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