Thursday, December 05, 2002

Corporations complaining about the Kyoto protocols will often ask about China, which refuses to do pretty much anything except sign a piece of paper. People who think the United States should make cuts first have some answers. The United States creates much more atmospheric carbon per capita than China, is more technologically and economically able to act, and does assume certain responsibilities by calling itself a world leader. Nevertheless I think this is a pretty good question. Of course it will be a number of years before China starts generating more atmospheric carbon than the United States at it's current rate of growth, but the most serious dangers of global warming are more to our children and grandchildren than most of us alive today.

One course of action is to refuse to take any concrete actions ourselves until China takes some - or at least agrees to specific actions at a specified future time. A best case scenario involves China then agreeing to something binding, followed by the United States. There are two potential problems with this. Although China supports Kyoto, it does not seem high on their list of priorities. A cynic might suggest they support it because it costs them nothing and gets them some good publicity. There are others, even more cynical, who have suggested that many of the lobbyists who oppose our signing any treaty which doesn't cost China anything aren't really desperate to have China take positive action, and would continue opposing Kyoto for other reasons.

I think we must agree that Kyoto is dead, and yes, even when alive it was imperfect like all living things. Let's continue to ask how we could encourage China to play a part in slowing down carbon emissions while the consequences become clearer. My proposal is that even without Kyoto we should try and take some actions to cut our carbon emissions - and establish that this is how a superpower acts. If China were to become a superpower nearly on a par with the United States as the Soviet Union once was, emitting much more carbon than us because of their greater population and (probably) still somewhat less advanced technology and greater dependence on coal, we may hear the arguments of some lobbyists recycled from a different perspective - and this is one kind of recycling which does not benefit the environment.

Perhaps the world should take some other action as well, to add economic pressure to moral pressure. Given GATT and other agreements this would require care, but we've all heard of nations which refuse to take any action which has any economic risk, no matter how slight the risk or how great the danger of global warming. I'd still love to hear some suggestions though.

I've decided not to edit my previous post even though the information on Vegan Blog is not perfect - it would leave people wondering why the author had posted a comment correcting me when my blog said exactly the same thing. Instead, read the comment by the author under my reference to them even if you already read the blog. I also want to thank Richard for his pointer to Quark Soup, which is not exclusively on global warming but has much good information about it. The author has written for Scientific American and has also written fun stuff on the space shuttle and nanotechnology, so drop by when you're ready to learn some science.

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