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Op-ed: U.S. must show leadership at climate talks

Will the world get it together on climate change?

Global warming crisis must be met with resolve and collaboration

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — With Arctic ice on the brink of near-total meltdown, super storms brewing in the oceans and after a summer of heatwaves and drought, about 17,000 delegates start meeting this week in Doha, Qatar to try and make some progress on the UN’s annual climate talks.

The backdrop for this year’s talks are continued dire warnings from scientists, who are saying that, if we can’t cap emissions by 2020, the world could be headed for runaway warming, with temperatures not seen on Earth for millions of years and almost unimaginable consequences for all life on Earth.

This is not a joke or some sort of purely academic debate. It could literally be a matter of life and death, but even though there’s a lot at stake, expectations aren’t very high for COP 18. The talks have become a frustrating exercise in futility, as politics and economics continually push the existential question of global warming into the back seat. What’s lacking most of all is clear leadership from the world’s most influential countries, including the USA.

There was a lot of talk during the recent campaign about America’s role in the world, and its place among nations, with both Democrats and Republicans continuing to claim a role for American exceptionalism, based on its democratic ideals and values. Most realists within and outside the U.S. know that this is mostly a myth, especially in recent years, as we’ve waged undeclared wars, held and tortured prisoners without due process and otherwise failed to live up to the high standards we’ve set for ourselves.

But tackling the issue of climate change could give the U.S. the chance to reclaim a global leadership role in a meaningful way that’s important for the future of the entire planet. Imagine the spark that could be ignited if we made a bold move like a unilateral commitment to cap and cut greenhouse gas emissions, then launched a bold NASA-like initiative to start down that path. We put a man on the moon in less than 10 years; it seems that we should be able to get our waste gases under control in that same amount of time.

Along with that commitment, we could offer to help any other country that voluntarily agrees to the same level of cuts, sharing technology and information to help meet those goals.

Skeptics would say that could put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage with other countries, but that argument totally misses the point. We can’t continue to think in those terms while facing an issue that affects all countries equally. And besides, committing to a low-carbon, renewable energy future in a big way is the path to future economic success.

Spurred by Sandy, President Obama has at long last started to talk about global warming, so it will be interesting to see if that converts into any sort of meaningful action during the next couple of weeks. The world will be watching.

 

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