Sunday, December 16, 2007

World Tribunal, Tech Force Needed On Warming

A pitifully weak compromise on global warming was finally hammered out at the conference in Bali, but the United States prevailed on insisting that very little be done. In effect, the whole problem was shoved two years into the future, when the obstructionist Bush Administration will be a thing of the past.

Instead of setting desperately needed goals for a reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases by a certain date in the future, the delegates agreed only to consider doing so. The conference also called for such expedients as less deforestation and building seawalls.

But calls, not mandates, for action are not enough. Every year that passes with nothing effective being done endangers life on this planet as we know it. As Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, writes this morning, it is too late to put this problem off until later.

If the U.S. delegation had had its way, with its initial position, nothing would have been done. The delegation was shamed into accepting the weak language that was adopted only by the appearance of former Vice President Al Gore, saying bluntly the U.S. was being obstructionist, plus the boos and catcalls of various delegations who were fed up with the American recalcitrance.

No kudos go either to developing states, such as India, which insisted that since industrialized countries had caused global warming with their profligate use of energy, it was up to them to correct the problem. This head-in-the-sand approach ignores the fact that it is the huge new usage of energy by India and China, plus other developing states, that is compounding the greenhouse emissions problem, and helping to cause trend lines that point to an emergency.

It should be clear by now that unless the whole world works on this, the warming is going to grow, the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps will melt, vast land areas will be inundated, displacing millions of people, farm production of food will diminish, and, finally, if not enough is done, the warming could conceivably grow to such proportions as to endanger life on Earth. Nothing less than that may be at stake.

So we simply cannot afford the present course. What Bali really proved is that the present deliberations and filibustering cannot be allowed to continue.

Two steps, in my view, are needed NOW. One is creation of a world tribunal, with enforcement powers, modeled to some extent on the international war crimes tribunal that has been convened in The Hague, to set goals and policies. This tribunal must be given mandatory command of what individual states will be required to do.

Yes, this would be world government to some extent. But the time has come for it. As was said during the American Revolution, "we must all hang together, or. assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

Secondly, It seems to me, a worldwide scientific task force, funded by the major powers, must be organized to develop technological innovations that would definitively end global warming. Similar to the Manhattan Project that developed atomic weapons for the U.S. in World War II, this would have to be given priority in requisitioning funds and materials to accomplish this.

One idea that has been publicly floated is the placement of gigantic screens around the Earth to deflect some of the sunlight. Another is to mine materials believed to exist on the Moon, such as Helium-3, that could be rocketed to Earth in quantities sufficient for the use of fusion processes to provide the Earth with huge quantities of non emission-producing electric power, thus decreasing reliance on fossil fuels, the burning of which is a prime cause of global warming.

We don't yet have fusion up and working, and placement of screens around the world would be a superlatively difficult business (so as to get the right amount of deflection, and not spin the world into an ice age). The difficulties of these and other expedients are not to be underestimated.

But we need to be working on them. They may well be surer means of dealing with global warming than the kind of obfuscation and maneuvering we saw in Bali last week and the certain prospect that there will never be a universally-accepted consensus as to what to do.

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