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Climate Scientists: The Treaty Fairy Can’t Save Planet Earth

Climate scientists have some bad news: carbon emissions were at record levels in 2011 and are set to jump to even higher levels in 2012.

Emissions continue to grow so rapidly that an international goal of limiting the ultimate warming of the planet to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, established three years ago, is on the verge of becoming unattainable, said researchers affiliated with the Global Carbon Project.

Josep G. Canadell, a scientist in Australia who leads that tracking program, said Sunday in a statement that salvaging the goal, if it can be done at all, “requires an immediate, large and sustained global mitigation effort.”

These look like insuperable difficulties to us. The United States has actually cut and will continue to cut emissions, but thanks to growth in India and China, the global total continues to rise. We can’t think of anything short of war that would force these countries to cut their emissions. And war on the scale necessary to force India and China into a Western-devised economic straitjacket would be so immensely destructive that there would not be much environment left to save.

Greens need to realize that globally limiting carbon emissions can only happen alongside sustained economic growth in the developing world. Any treaty that tries to impose growth-limiting policies on industrial giants like China and India is doomed to failure, and treaties that require large transfers of resources from developed to developing countries can’t and won’t be ratified by the United States Senate. Difficult as these truths may be, playing “let’s pretend” is a really stupid way to think about the future of the world.

Mitigation, technological progress, and hastening the global transition to a post-industrial information economy seem to be the only possible policy options. At Via Meadia we think that the environmental movement is much, much too pessimistic about how much can be done by promoting rather than retarding the world’s economic and technological progress. But as long as the green movement continues to believe in the climate treaty fairy, more promising avenues will not get the attention or the energy they deserve.

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