Breaking the Ice on Warming

There was, according to news reports, a heartening spirit of compromise in evidence in Greenland last week when officials from 23 nations gathered to discuss global warming.

The occasion was a four-day visit to the massive Ilulissat glacier, a United Nations landmark that is rapidly melting into the ocean. Hosted by Denmark, which governs Greenland, the icy gathering was intended to drive home the reality of the earth’s warming and spur new efforts to change the human activity that is in large part responsible. The stakes are huge: nothing less than preserving life on earth in the face of catastrophic environmental change.

Efforts to arrest global warming have been deadlocked since 2001, when the Bush administration withdrew from the Kyoto Accord, an international agreement aimed at slowing the warming process. Central to the accord is a plan for industrial nations to cut their emission of so-called greenhouse gases, produced by automobiles and heavy industry, by 5.2% within 20 years. The administration took the position that the economic costs of the emission cuts weren’t justified, since science hadn’t proved that greenhouse emissions were actually warming the atmosphere. That stance has put the administration at odds with most of the scientific community and stirred a wave of anti-American feeling in other countries. Few issues have done more to sully America’s image around the world.

In recent months, the administration has begun to show signs of coming to its senses. While it still rejects the Kyoto formula, it’s begun promoting its own plan for cutting emissions through the development of new technologies. It’s also moving forward with scientific reviews that appear likely to endorse the prevailing view, and there are signs that the White House won’t dismiss the science this time.

The Bush record is still deeply disappointing. Kyoto, the product of a hard-fought global consensus, remains the most sensible avenue for reducing emissions, and America’s refusal to participate is shameful. Further opportunities were missed in the wasteful energy bill passed by Congress this month. As the world’s largest industrial power — responsible for fully one-fourth of the world’s greenhouse-generating industrial activity — we have a responsibility to lead.

Nonetheless, the stakes involved in this dispute are too high for sulking from either side. The nations that gathered in Greenland last week took the right approach in seeking common ground between the Kyoto and the American approaches, trying to view them as complementary rather than conflicting. As Denmark’s environment minister said in a statement at the close of the Ilulissat conference, “The blaming games must end, because they lead nowhere.”

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Breaking the Ice on Warming

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