Editor's Letter: Cutting greenhouse gas emissions

In spite of their pledges and promises, the world’s industrialized nations are unlikely to take serious action to cut carbon emissions.

Let’s suppose for a moment that a friend tells you he’s decided to give up smoking—40 years from now. How seriously would you take him? Not very, which is the only rational response to last week’s empty pledge by the world’s industrialized nations to make an 80 percent cut in their greenhouse gas emissions by … yes, the year 2050. This Augustinian pledge—Lord, give me chastity, but not just yet—did not fool India, China, and Brazil, which said in effect: When the wealthy societies actually cut emissions, let us know. Otherwise, we’re going to keep burning fuel and improving our standard of living, just as you did for the past 150 years.

It makes sense, of course, for Western governments to try to limit the warming trend scientists now say is inevitable. But the same scientists say we need to cut emissions by 40 percent in just the next 20 years. It won’t happen, not if recent history—and human nature—is any indication. Despite a lot of fine talk, most of the major countries that signed on to the Kyoto accords failed to meet their very modest emissions targets. And any future small reductions will be negated by all the cars and coal-burning plants going on line in China and India. The world has but one real hope of halting global warming, and that’s a technological breakthrough—a new source of energy that doesn’t produce greenhouse gases, and is cheaper than oil, gas, and coal. Until that day comes, promises about creating “green,” carbon-free societies fall in the same category as “family values” politicians prattling on about sexual morality and the sanctity of marriage. These are all fine things, as long as they come at some future date.

William Falk

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