It's a vexing problem that spells enormous trouble for mankind: everybody's right and, in being right, everybody's wrong.
When it comes to anthropogenic global warming, excuses trump ideas every time. The developing countries, notably the emerging economic powerhouses of India and China, point the finger at the developed (white) world where vast prosperity has been achieved by creating most of the problem that besets the planet right now. The industrialized nations, they claim, created the mess and therefore have a moral obligation to be the first to mend their ways. It's a good point and has fairness on its side.
The industrialized nations reply that the past is past and all nations have to cut emissions drastically because to cut the developing nations the slack they want will defeat any meaningful carbon reductions and, worse, will give them an enormous economic advantage (of the sort we enjoyed for centuries) and they're not even white!
So, how do we break this deadlock and get everyone to come up with a workable solution? We wait. Eventually, and we probably won't have to wait too long, conditions will get unpleasant enough all around that we'll set aside our childish arguments and accept the unavoidable. When it comes to that, the sooner the better. The longer we wait, the more losses we'll have to endure and the more costly will be remediation and adaptation. Delay is very much a losing proposition.
It's becoming clear that we're no longer near the action tipping point. Negotiations have been underway to reach a new climate deal by the end of 2009 and they're snagged on the standard disputes. From ENN:
"The road ahead of us is daunting," Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said of a U.N. timetable meant to end with a climate deal in Copenhagen in December 2009 to widen and toughen the existing Kyoto Protocol.
Still, he said there was progress in Bonn partly because nations had a better understanding of what should go into the hugely complex treaty meant to slow desertification, heatwaves, floods, rising seas and more powerful storms.
"It is crucial that the next stage of meetings produce concrete negotiating texts," he said. Bonn was the second session in a two-year push for a deal after starting in Bangkok in March. The next will be in Accra, Ghana, in August.
Others were more sceptical.
"It could well be said that we have been beating around the bush," said India's Chandrashekhar Dasgupta. He said there was a "deafening silence" from almost all rich nations on ways to make new cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions."
These deadlocks remind me of tectonic plates, grinding against each other while pressure continually mounts. Sooner or later something has to give but, when it does, the effects are often devastating.