To the Contrary

Climate change: The U.S. should lead or step aside

The United States can best influence how the world addresses global warming by leading the way instead of sniping from the sidelines. Constructive participation in meetings next month in Bali, Indonesia, must set the tone.

The U.N. climate panel issued a summary report last weekend that put a grim exclamation point on the findings and forecasts of three studies released earlier this year:

"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observation of increases in global average air and ocean temperature, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level," according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

U.S. delegates tried to water down stark language and eliminate a summation of five broad reasons for concern: risks to threatened and unique systems; risks from extreme climate events; distribution of impacts; aggregate impacts; and risks from future large-scale societal disruptions.

Roughly translated, this list portends crop failures and starvation, extinction of species, weather-related devastation and dislocation, and bigger and nastier storms and droughts.

The Kyoto protocols expire in 2012. On Dec. 3, 130 nations begin a round of meetings in Bali to enforce ways to cut greenhouse gases and to build a collective strategy in areas of energy supply, transport, building, industry, agriculture, forests and water.

Instead of diverting attention to emerging economies and wondering what India and China will do, the U.S. ought to lead with purpose and innovation. Embrace the challenge with green building standards, technological creativity and entrepreneurism that invents environmental products for export and yields -- in the words of author Alan Thein Durning -- green-collar jobs.

As the White House and Congress fumble for consensus on a national policy, the federal government must not block the efforts of states to move ahead. Washington and a dozen other states have joined in a lawsuit filed by California against the Environmental Protection Agency in pursuit of a waiver so they can impose more-stringent auto-exhaust emissions.

Do more to encourage businesses to invest their talent and resources to reduce greenhouse gases, in their operations and through their supply chains. Last month, the Greater Seattle Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a packed conference on the business of climate change and the leadership opportunity.

Conditions are grave enough that good intentions will not be enough. Government has a place in enforcement, standards and incentives.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described global warming as "the defining challenge of our age." The U.S. role in Bali ought to match the profound sense of urgency.