There you go again, George Will.
In his July 23 commentary, Will took another whack at flogging the evidence-challenged argument that the long-term rise in global average temperatures somehow stopped in 1998.
To substantiate his assertion about the supposed end of global warming, Will quoted social critic Mark Steyn, who is as unqualified to pronounce on climate science as a cantaloupe but lacks a cantaloupe's good sense to keep quiet about it.
Will is supposed to be a conservative, but it's more accurate to call him an ideologue, more comfortable in the candyland of spin and slogans than in the gritty neighborhood of reality. As was pointed out by a character in Mars Life, Ben Bova's newest science fiction novel: "Science, my friend, is the difference between what you think ought to be and what actually is."
But what of the argument in Will's screed that anything the U.S. does to cut carbon emissions would be overwhelmed by economic growth in China, India, and other developing countries? That argument merits some attention.
In the International Energy Agency's latest World Energy Outlook, the business-as-usual scenario projects that energy-related greenhouse gas emissions will increase 45 percent from the 2005 level by 2030. Three-fourths of the increase is projected to come from China, India, and the Middle East. The U.S. and other industrialized nations cannot shoulder the full burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and still keep climate change from spinning out of control.
Will's advice is to give up and forget the whole thing. Lucky for America that Will wasn't around to spread that kind of inspiration at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777.
Still, Will's can't-do meme doesn't negate the reality that developing nations' emissions are on the rise and that they have to be part of the solution.
The starting point is the Big Two - the U.S. and China. The U.S. and China are the top two greenhouse gas emitters, accounting for some 40 percent of the global annual total. There is no solution to climate change without both pitching in.
If the U.S. does nothing, then the likelihood of China signing up for emissions reductions will fall to zero. If, on the other hand, the U.S. adopts statutory limits on greenhouse gas emissions, then our guys at the State Department will have some space to negotiate bilateral understandings with China, a Big Two agreement if you will, that could underpin whatever pact emerges from broader, multilateral climate negotiations.
Clearly, China is taking an interest in the climate problem. Chinese leaders know that climate change will not yield happy outcomes for their country coastal sea level rise, loss of glacier ice that supplies drinking water, and drought in the northern plains, for example.
And, they are not oblivious to the advantages of cleaning up their country's environmental act. They know that pollution kills jobs as well as people, and they are not excited about letting a filthy environment stir up political instability.
The trick will be shaping climate deals that align China's economic development, environmental cleanup, and political stability goals with getting a handle on greenhouse gas emissions.
In pondering a global climate agreement, it's worth noting that a hard emissions cap is not necessarily the only action that developing countries could take at the outset. Writing in Resources for the Future's policy journal, international law expert Daniel Bodansky suggested that they could agree to adopt policies that are in their domestic interest and that drive them in the right direction, such as energy efficiency standards.
The diplomatic climb to climate deals, between the U.S. and China, and a broader global pact, will be steep. For the Big Two, it is early days yet, and their diplomats are still scoping things out, looking for handholds that might hoist them upward towards a climate accommodation.
If it were up to George Will, the U.S. would surrender and let the climate gods have their way with human civilization. Fortunately, it's not up to him, but we still have our work cut out for us.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.