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We’re the world’s biggest economy and still the biggest carbon dioxide emitter. Without us, the most ambitious global plans will fail. To most of the world’s scientists and leaders, the planet is barreling toward disaster and America is preventing a rescue plan. And that’s without counting methane.
The last major international plan, adopted in Kyoto in 1997, committed the 40 richest nations to voluntary carbon reduction targets through 2012. Thirty-nine agreed and got to work. Guess who refused.
What would disaster look like? No need to guess: It’s already begun. The last few years have seen a sharp increase in severe weather — droughts, flooding, unusually intense hurricanes and tornadoes — that scientists are 90% certain results from man-made climate change. Island nations are slowly succumbing to rising sea levels. Tropical diseases are migrating north into populous temperate zones. Vast regions of Africa are turning arid, bringing mass starvation. A cover story in Newsweek last May looked at how American cities and counties were preparing for the changes underway: retrofitting roads and sewage systems to escape rising seas, helping farmers find new crops for warmer climates and changed growing seasons, coping with unfamiliar pests moving into new habitats, even moving entire shore communities inland. The feds aren’t dealing with it because Congress doesn’t believe in it, so it’s up to the counties.
The convoluted agreement adopted in Durban bears mute testimony to the world’s Washington problem. If Democrats regain the House next November, global rescue plans shift into high gear. If Republicans capture the White House, watch for a run on penicillin and scuba gear.
It’s going to be a close election. The result will likely hinge on a few thousand votes in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. And that’s what troubled me walking home from Shabbat dinner: If this is what they’re saying about Obama on the Upper West Side, what are they saying in Boca Raton? Remember, we’re only talking about a few thousand votes.
Lovers of Israel often say we should worry about our own problems and let the world look after itself. Usually that has some logic. Right now, though, the world is our problem.
Contact J.J. Goldberg at firstname.lastname@example.org