The diplomats, politicians, entourages, activists, reporters, and hangers-on are heading home from Denmark - leaving behind trash for Copenhagen and a throbbing headache for the rest of the world.
It was probably unrealistic to expect representatives of 192 countries - each of which have different interests and politics - to come to terms on a treaty settling all of the details involved with reworking the world's energy economy in time to keep the global climate out of the red zone.
Disappointment at the dishwatery deal that came out of Copenhagen is understandable. Still, the tortuous history of nuclear arms control negotiations shows that there might be a productive roads towards progress.
Back in the day, the Big Two were the United States and the Soviet Union. Both maintained nuclear arsenals that posed existential risks to civilization. None but the Big Two could dial back the risks. Haltingly, through many high-level summit meetings, some friendlier than others, and many sets of highly complicated, difficult negotiations, the Big Two found ways to shrink their arsenals. Success took longer than was optimal, but the result was a safer world.
Today, the Big Two are the United States and China. Both emit enough greenhouse gases - 40 percent of the global total - to risk pushing the global climate system into dangerous territory. If the Big Two don't reduce their emissions substantially, there is little chance of stabilizing the atmosphere's concentration of CO2. (Message to the climate denial illiterates. CO2 traps radiant heat energy. That's been a documented fact since the Buchanan administration. Catch a clue.) Post-Copenhagen, the U.S. and China should embark on negotiating climate deals covering a gamut of issues - joint efforts to carry out demonstrate and deploy low-carbon technologies, financing mitigation, and coming to terms on verification, one of the bugaboos that roiled the Copenhagen talks and, incidentally, one of the more vexing issues between the previous Big Two.
Here's a small example of what could be done. Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, a Maryland Republican who is one of the few working scientists in Congress, and three other Republicans suggested working out a deal with China to spend stimulus funds buying and installing U.S.-manufactured pollution control technology for Chinese coal plants in exchange for retiring a proportional amount of U.S. debt held by China.
Such an agreement wouldn't amount to much as far as reducing greenhouse gas emissions goes, but it would build confidence and serve as a foundation for future cooperative projects in the energy realm that would cut carbon pollution.
There's an old saying in diplomacy. There are no permanent friends, only permanent interests.
The U.S. and Soviets negotiated a series of arms deals because it was in the interest of both countries to tamp down the arms race and reduce the risks of a global conflagration.
Likewise, rational actors in both the U.S. and China know that it is in both countries' interest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stop the highly imprudent chemistry experiment that humanity is performing on the global climate system. There is plenty that both countries can do together to tamp down emissions and reduce the risks of dangerous climate change.
Let the thin gruel of an agreement that came out of Copenhagen serve as the first of many climate deals between the U.S. and China that push the emissions reduction ball forward and leave the world better off.
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