President Obama opened the first meeting of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue on Monday by declaring that the two countries share a responsibility for the 21st century.
On economic matters, but also on climate change, nuclear proliferation and transnational threats, the two countries should strive to cooperate he said.
"The pursuit of power among nations must no longer be seen as a zero-sum game," he said.
He's right, of course. One country's progress shouldn't be seen as another's decline; there isn't a finite supply of things like justice or peace.
But we are dealing with zero sums when it comes to the planet. When it comes to polar ice, it turns out, there really is a finite supply.
The US military released graphic images recently confirming vast areas in the arctic have lost their ice cover in summer months. The pictures, kept secret by Washington during the Bush presidency, were declassified by the White House last week.
The loss of ice threatens polar bears and other arctic life, and the ability of the planet to cool itself. The latest revelations have also triggered warnings from scientists that they no longer have the funds to keep comprehensive track of climate change.
Now the president's up against a problem. Indian officials are already resisting State Department pressure to cap carbon emissions; the Chinese are pretty cool to the idea too.
The US faces one huge enormous moral authority problem. After decades as the world's largest economy -- producing a full fifth of all carbon emissions, Obama's essentially telling the world: do as we did not do -- please?
That's the thing about the golden rule. Or for that matter climate change, nuclear proliferation, and international law. But karma does have a way of working itself out.
What the Chinese and Indians could zero out is time -- the decades a super developed US wasted clinging to old fuels. Maybe the president could pitch instead Zero Sum stupidity. We've used up so much, there's just none left.