Hot, Cool or Lukewarm?


If you want to assess the outcome of the Group of Eight (G8) discussions about climate change in L’Aquila, Italy last week, probably the best way to do so is to look in the mirror.


If you are a skeptic about global warming and believe that all this (well established) science is so much ado about nothing, you’re likely cool to the notion of the world’s leaders devoting time and resources on how to reduce greenhouse gasses. Or you may reach the same conclusion if you believe that this focus on temperature issues puts a damper on restoring vitality to the American and world economies.

If you’re an earnest and optimistic head-nodder when the subject of global warming arises, you may see the pledge of the G8 countries (including the United States) to work toward reducing their carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050 as an historic step in the right direction. And you laud President Barack Obama for showing leadership on this major environmental question, turning away from the U.S.’s refusal to embrace the previous international efforts toward carbon control in the Kyoto Protocol.

But if, as we do, you see the need to reverse global warming as a major component of tikkun olam and essential in turning a better world over to our children, the G8 deliberations will leave you flooded with angst.

The discussions of the G8, joined by the so-called G5 developing nations (including China and India) and several other nations, provide a constructive lead up to the United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen, Denmark this December. And in addition to the above pledge, the G8 members and the developing nations also agreed that global temperatures should not rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialized levels, lest disastrous and potentially irreversible consequences ensue.

Yet the developing countries, which want to continue imposing Kyoto’s responsibility for the lion’s share of pollution effects on the so-called developed nations, are balking at the G8’s insistence that worldwide emissions drop by 50 percent by 2050. They contend that the G8 nations should reduce emissions by up to 40 percent by 2020.

And herein lies the rub. The G8 countries are balking at the 2020 deadline as too much too soon, while the developing nations are using the G8’s longtime pollutive conduct as an excuse not to be more aggressive with their own emissions.

The debate seems to be mired in the political rhetoric of yesteryear. The developing countries are essentially arguing, “Hey, guys, you got to create all this historical wealth by polluting, it’s just plain unfair for us not to be able to do the same thing.”

This is a largely specious argument, as most of the industrialized wealth created in the developing nations has derived from selling their wares to the U.S. and other G8 nations. Moreover, the developing nations have in many instances avoided imposing on themselves the environmental requirements expected of U.S. industry over the last couple decades. And leaders of the developing countries fail to point out that the effects of global warming have a disproportionate effect on the poorest of their nations.

This does not excuse the G8 from assuming the lead in reducing emissions. They can do this by agreeing to meaningful reductions on a more aggressive timetable than half a century from now. Some will argue that this commitment could impair our economic fortunes, but this ignores the ascent of so-called Energy Technology as described by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, and others. A focus on new, inventive approaches to clean energy provides massive benefits on any number of levels, among them energy independence, decline of oil as a geopolitical force, and the export of green technologies to developing countries.

We do not suggest it will be easy for nations of different sizes, political systems and economic maturities to reach agreement on climate change protections for the world. Indeed, as Friedman once said rather sarcastically in an interview with the Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria: “I’m not against Kyoto; if you can get 190 countries all to agree on verifiable limits on their carbon, God bless you.”

If, however, we continue to set goals so weak and remote that they are meaningless, then if you accept the conclusions of the vast majority of scientists, future generations will be doomed to a future of flooding, changing coastlines, increased famine and other ecosystem disasters. That is not a picture we consider defensible by Jewish standards. The world’s children deserve a better future, and the world’s governments should give it to them.