The collapse of United Nations climate talks means society still has made no determination to take those first tentative steps to curb emissions of air pollutants implicated in global warming through the greenhouse effect.
Representatives of 180 countries attended the negotiations in The Hague, held to flesh out the bones of an accord signed three years ago in Kyoto, Japan. In that so-called Kyoto Protocol, developed nations agreed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 5.2 per cent below their 1990 levels by 2012.
Carbon dioxide is one of the “greenhouse gases “ that are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere, where they trap heat almost like panes of glass in a greenhouse.
The Hague conference was held to map out a specific plan for cutting emissions, such as reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released from coal-fired electric generation stations and automobile tailpipes.
But it didn't happen, and environmentalists quite correctly blamed the United States delegation, which insisted on an essentially do-nothing scheme. The U.S. plan would allow industrialized nations to count in their emissions-reduction targets the carbon dioxide absorbed by forests, farmland, and other so-called “carbon sinks.” That approach would largely avoid committing the country to direct measures, such as energy-efficient cars that burn less fuel (and thus release less carbon dioxide) and alternative energy sources.
The real blame, however, lies with the environmentalists themselves - and the scientists, policy-makers, and others in the global warming community. They have done a miserable job of convincing the public that countermeasures really are necessary and worth the effort.
Public backing is essential because any agreement reached at a UN climate summit would be meaningless unless implemented by political action back home. That means new laws passed by Congress and new regulations by the next administration.
One big problem may be the lack of public awareness that some measures to combat global warming are win-win propositions.
Energy efficiency and energy conservation, for instance, are among the most effective ways of reducing carbon dioxide emissions
Energy conservation would serve double-duty, as a way to save money here and now on high-priced gasoline and reduce national reliance on imported oil. A global warming agreement could provide the gentle nudge that motivates industry to develop more energy-efficient vehicles with lower carbon dioxide emissions and lower fuel consumption.
An agreement could encourage research on a wide array of other technologies that may be critical later in the 21st Century as the severity and impact of global warming becomes clearer. Years will be needed to ready these technologies, and it is only prudent to start while there is time.
United States negotiators will have another go during Round Two of the climate summit, planned for May 2001. They should end the do-nothing nonsense.