Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Climate Control Policy and Fairness

Been meaning to link to this for a couple of days now. Helmut, over at phronesisiacal, has a magnificent post about climate control policy. A real must read. The real power of the blogs is when someone with expertise explains things clearly so the rest of us become smarter. There's so much expertise out there that when we pull from it, we all get better informed. It's what Lindsay at Majikthise calls "the hive mind" and this post is a great example of it at its best.

Helmut does a beautiful job of laying out the different sides of the discussion, but I want to look at the two objections of the Bush folks:

The central problems for the US regarding the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed by the US in 1998 but never ratified (the latter is necessary for an international agreement to become binding, though the US has broken plenty of other binding agreements over the past six years) are:

- that the US views ratification of Kyoto as not in its national interests. This position assumes that a) national interests are synonymous with economic interests; b) that there is no technological alternative for economic growth [also a value assumption] to increasing emissions; and c) that only national interests matter when it comes to climate change.

- that developing countries excluded from the first round of Kyoto should have been included, especially China and India, along with the developed Annex I countries.
The first receives a lot of discussion, but it is the second one that interests me here. The question I'm thinking about is "Is there something wrong with leaving developing nations out of the mix?"

On the one side, the argument is one of fairness. The US and Europe was able to reap the benefits of modernizing without constraints. To now make it harder and more expensive for those currently in the process would be to punish them for the crimes committed by those who came before. Why should India and China have to suffer economic harm because of the west's screw up? Let them get up to speed and then talk about pitching in emissions-wise. It's only fair. When you watch a race, those in the outer lanes start in front of those with the inside route because closer is shorter -- it is not that they are being given an unfair advantage, the head start makes it fair. In the same way, would inclusion of China and India in climate change policy on an equal footing be like putting them in the outside lanes and making them start on the same line as the US and Europe eith the inside track?

The line on the other side is utilitarian -- "Hey, we've got a problem now. A big problem that will impact everyone and everyone needs to pitch in." If global warming is a real concern, then shouldn't we all be doing everything we can to stop it, even those nations who are now industrializing. Why repeat an error when we know how bad the error is? Yes, it is unfortunate that these folks get saddled with an extra burden, but facts is facts and the fact is our emissions are doing very bad things and we all need to pull together to solve the problem. If we are serious about solving this, how can we do anything and not do something about the second largest producer of problematic emissions?

So, if we had Kyoto to do over again, should China and India be included?