Climate Change: Debating America's Policy Options

Climate Change: Debating America's Policy Options

Climate Change: Debating America's Policy Options

Climate Change: Debating America's Policy Options

Synopsis

Ever since withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, the US has incurred criticism for its stance on climate change. Victor (energy and sustainable development, Stanford University) presents three alternative policy options the US could pursue, in the form of hypothetical presidential speeches. T

Excerpt

Climate change is among the most complex problems on the foreign policy agenda. Even with a mounting consensus that humans are causing a change in the world’s climate, experts are divided on the severity of the problem and the necessity and nature of policy responses. Practically any course of action implies that today’s societies will incur costs as they deviate from the status quo, and any benefits of their efforts will accrue mainly in the distant future. Such intergenerational bargains are always hard to strike.

Compounding the difficulty is the reality that this problem is truly global in scope. a few nations—led by the United States, which is responsible for one-quarter of the effluent that is linked to global warming—account for most emissions. Yet in a global economy some measure of global coordination will be required to ensure that some do not ride free on the efforts of others. This issue thus involves all the factors that make it hard to construct successful foreign policy: highly complex yet uncertain scientific knowledge, widely diverging interests, and the need for effective international arrangements.

In the United States, climate change has become a lightning rod. On one side is a sizable minority that dismisses most or all of the science. There are as well those who view the threats of climate change with such seriousness that nothing less is required than a prompt and complete reorganization of the modem industrial economy—away from the use of fossil fuels (whose combustion emits carbon dioxide, the leading human cause of climate change) and toward some alternative energy future. Bridging this divide will likely prove impossible, and generating a middle position that a credible majority supports will take considerable time. Yet the longer we wait, the more urgent the issue becomes as the concentrations of so-called greenhouse gases build in the atmosphere . . .

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