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The Progressive

Crunch Time for Planet Earth

It's crunch time for Planet Earth.

The climate change negotiations in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit seem to be deadlocked.

"America indicated yesterday that a legally binding agreement was probably impossible, and acceptance is growing among both rich and poor countries that no binding deal will be reached in Copenhagen next month, and that talks could drag well into 2010 or beyond," The Guardian reports.

The problem is that the West and developing countries are at loggerheads over who needs to make big emission cuts at this stage, and whether there should be a large compensatory fund for poorer nations to help with a transition to green technologies.

The stance of the developing world makes a lot of sense. After all, as Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, enlightened me, the rise in world temperatures is almost all the rich nations' fault, since it's due to combined greenhouse gas emissions since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

"Remember, the problem has been caused not by today's emissions or the last twenty-five years of emissions; it's been caused by cumulative emissions beginning with industrialization," he told me. "The role of the industrial countries is paramount in having contributed to human-induced climate change."

Not surprisingly, both Pachauri and his organization are strong backers both of the concept of "differentiated responsibility" (that the obligation of rich and poor nations to fight climate change is very dissimilar) and of a compensatory mechanism to help the developing world cope with the financial burden.

But the Obama Administration has been disappointing on global warming, lowballing on its financial commitment to help poor countries, and claiming that it can't make big pledges on cutting emissions since progress on this front depends on congressional action.


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"What we're actually seeing ... has been extraordinarily destructive behavior on the part of the U.S. government, on the part of the Obama Administration, absolutely derailing the climate negotiations in the lead-up to Copenhagen," says Naomi Klein. "Developing countries are absolutely shocked by what U.S. climate negotiators have done."

Well, at least the Obama Administration's excuse about Congress's inactivity is being taken away. A Senate panel just approved a bill (with a complete Republican boycott) that aims to cut emissions by 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. It will now have to face a full Senate vote, and will have to be reconciled with a slightly less ambitious House bill. While flawed and not far-reaching enough (there is too much faith in the market "cap-and-trade" mechanism, for instance), these are at least steps in the right direction.

Meanwhile, the American public is in full denial mode about basic science.

"There has been a sharp decline over the past year in the percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence that global temperatures are rising," states a Pew poll released last month. "And fewer also see global warming as a very serious problem-35 percent say that today, down from 44 percent in April 2008."

As if that's not startling enough, the percentage of Americans who believe that global warming is caused due to human activity is also down: from 47 percent last year to 36 percent now. And I thought that the battle to convince people of the immediacy of climate change was over with "An Inconvenient Truth."

Know-nothings like the National Review's Jonah Goldberg are exultant. ("The notion that America will sacrifice its sovereignty and treasure ... to reduce warming by a fraction a century from now is absurd," he writes.) Obviously, the smart obfuscation campaign by global warming naysayers is working. ("We aren't saying that climate change isn't happening, we're just saying that we can't be certain.")

We need to stop being in denial mode and take action to stop the Earth from heating up. If we keep burying our heads in the sand, we're going to get buried.

Amitabh Pal

Amitabh Pal

Amitabh Pal is managing editor of The Progressive. He has interviewed the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter and John Kenneth Galbraith for the magazine.

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