Thursday, October 01, 2009

Earth to Obama

It's not enough for Barack Obama to negotiate a climate change deal with China. It's Earth that matters, not China. However the approach Obama is taking virtually guarantees we're all going to fail in the fight against global warming. From The New Republic:

It's been a long year--Barack Obama has faced, in rough order, John McCain, global financial collapse, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Blue Dogs, the Progressive Caucus, the Gang of Six, Glenn Beck, Representative Joe Wilson (R-Hissy), and the third of Republicans convinced he was born somewhere else. Of course, minus the birth certificates, roughly the same has been true for Hu Jintao and Nicolas Sarkozy, for Angela Merkel and Manmohan Singh. That's what politics is--a series of challenges, which are rarely won or lost completely. You get part of what you wanted (everyone with health insurance), and maybe you leave other stuff for another day (the public option). That's why we call politics the pursuit of the possible.
And it's why the next big issue on the agenda is totally, scarily different. Assuming that the health care fracas eventually ends, Washington will tackle the president's other great priority for his administration--energy and climate. The House has already approved the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, and a Senate version is expected at month's end. Even if Congress drags its feet, Obama will visit China in mid-November to likely conclude a bilateral pact that will set the stage for the huge Copenhagen climate conference in December. It promises to be one more big fight.

But, throughout the process, as industry and environmentalists, Chinese and Indians, Americans and Europeans push and prod each other, another more important negotiation will be going on behind the scenes. That negotiation features human beings--led more by Obama than anyone else on the planet--against physics and chemistry. It's not going to be enough to strike a deal with Beijing or Delhi, to meet in the middle on some mutually plausible scheme. A deal has to be struck with the climate itself, and the climate is unlikely to haggle.

The logic is inescapable. Unless you negotiate within a "never exceed" emissions framework, all you'll accomplish is to negotiate yourself right past a tipping point where the planet's natural carbon dioxide and methane emission mechanisms are triggered. If you don't negotiate to stay well within that threshold, your negotiations are disastrous to the point of potentially lethal.


LMA said...

Let's just hope and pray the draft U.S. Senate Climate Change bill which calls for 20% reduction in GHG emissions by 2020 is passed before December. Just think where Canada would be now if the NDP's Climate Change Accountability Act which called for 25% reduction by 2020 and also made it to the Senate, had been passed back in 2008.

The Mound of Sound said...

Sorry to burst your bubble LMA but the 20% reduction by 2020 is based on 2005 emissions, not 1990, and is so far past the target the US needs to meet as to be virtually irrelevant.

When it comes to tipping points, there's no "close." You either win or you lose. Once the earth's feedback mechanisms are triggered, the trapped carbon and methane that will be emitted will make our contribution and our cuts insignificant.

In this one it really is win or lose. Good intentions and half measures are just as dangerous as bad intentions and ho measures. You're either in control or you're out of control.

LMA said...

I agree that we are at risk of disastrous climate change over which we will have no control. However, there are those who refuse to believe that human activity is in any way responsible for these changes, and they will fight tooth and nail to defeat all attempts to reduce GHG emissions. So, somehow Obama has to chart a moderate course, and the bill may at least have a chance at passing. More serious cuts to emissions will hopefully come later unless, as you say, we run out of time.

LMA said...

Not sure if you will read this MoS, but I just noticed on the CNN website that the Boxer-Kerry Bill proposes reductions of 20% below 1990 not 2005 levels by 2020. This is still below the 25% to 40% recommended by the IPCC, and the Bill is described as an exercise in realism vs. idealism in an article published in Time today.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks for the info LMA. The troubling point is how the Dems are going to find the spine to push that through. They've been such a disappointment on everything else and the Repugs have come to expect them to bend over when they snap their fingers.