By Richard Harris
The United Nations negotiations in Warsaw over a climate treaty are moving at glacial speed — and that’s in part because there’s a fundamental problem.
In the coming decades, carbon dioxide emissions from China, India and other rapidly developing countries are expected to grow quickly. Residents there aspire to lifestyles Americans and Europeans enjoy today, and those nations aren’t willing to slash emissions, because doing so could slow their economic growth.
With carbon dioxide on the rise from sources outside the United States, some people are asking why the U.S. should bear the expense involved in slashing its own emissions.
We put that question to some of the world’s leading climate strategists — several academics who live and work in California, home to the nation’s most ambitious policy for dealing with climate change.
Take, for example, Catherine Wolfram, an economics professor and co-director of the Haas Energy Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. She says it’s fair to ask why the U.S. should shift from cheap fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources that are more expensive.
“If you look at the numbers,” Wolfram says, “they suggest a whole year of California reductions [are] wiped away in one week of Chinese growth.”
Looked at that way, it seems futile to try. But Wolfram says there is a rationale for the United States to show some leadership.
“I don’t think the political message is what India and China need to hear,” she says. “I think they just need to see — and we haven’t shown it yet, but the hope is that we will show it eventually — that we can produce low-carbon energy cheaply.”