A New Chapter in the Climate Debate?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorAug 7, 2012 6:54 PM


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A war on drugs whose objective is to eradicate the drug market "” to stop drugs from arriving in the United States and stop Americans from swallowing, smoking, inhaling or injecting them "” is a war that cannot be won.

This is a statement that should surprise no one. It comes at the end of a recent NYT analysis by Eduardo Porter that should nevertheless be read. Now let's jump to the climate issue. Like the never-ending war on drugs, the conventional paradigm for addressing climate change has proven to be a colossal failure--yet it remains in place. In case anyone needs a reminder of where things stand:

The global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide has jumped by a record amount, according to the US department of energy, a sign of how feeble the world's efforts are at slowing man-made global warming.

This quote summed up the situation well:

"The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more they are growing," said John Reilly, the co-director of MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.

There appears to be growing recognition that a different approach might be necessary. From a Reuters article this week:

Years of talks have failed to deliver a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which set emissions targets for industrial nations. And despite agreement last year to set up a fund to raise aid for poor nations to help them cope with the effects of climate change, it took until last week just to decide who would sit on its governing panel. "It's going to be very difficult to reach a deal by 2015," said Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. He said new approaches were needed to permit economic growth that does not damage the environment. Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. climate change secretariat in 2009 when a summit in Copenhagen tried and failed to reach a global deal, called for a re-think to allow greener economic growth, especially for poorer nations. "The climate change negotiations have focused very heavily on targets, legally-binding regimes and consequences if you fail (to cut emissions)," he told Reuters. "Not nearly enough focus has been on how we can create an architecture ... which allows countries to engage on climate change while at the same time growing their economies and lifting people out of poverty," he said.

Along these lines, do read a new essay by Roger Pielke Jr. posted at the Foreign Policy website. He writes:

For years -- decades, even -- science has shown convincingly that human activities have an impact on the planet. That impact includes but is not limited to carbon dioxide. We are indeed running risks with the future climate through the unmitigated release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and none of the schemes attempted so far has made even a dent in the problem. While the climate wars will go on, characterized by a poisonous mix of dodgy science, personal attacks, and partisan warfare, the good news is that progress can yet be made outside of this battle. The key to securing action on climate change may be to break the problem into more manageable parts.

Can we have a constructive debate that explores this avenue? We'll find out soon enough.

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