op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times this morning, by David Rivkin and Lee Casey, argues that the United States should not agree to reduce its carbon emissions, unless and until developing countries such as China and India and Brazil agree to do the same. They make the valid point that US reductions would do little to reduce the overall problem as long as these rapidly-industrializing nations continue to increase their carbon output as dramatically as they have in recent years. They also argue, using the analogies of trade negotiations and arms reduction negotiations, that unilateralism is a bad negotiating strategy, because unilateral concessions lessen a negotiating party's leverage to obtain similar concessions from others. This latter point seems more debatable, at least as applied to the problem of reducing CO2 in the atmosphere.
First, the developing nations have long argued that it is unfair to demand dramatic concessions from them while the United States continues to emit far more greenhouse gases per capita than other nations. So our refusal to agree to restrictions actually discourages other nations from agreeing to reduce own their emissions. These developing countries also have the valid argument that all they are doing is catching up to the countries that industrialized earlier, and that it is unfair to restrict their ability to reduce poverty and modernize their economies while the United States and Europe continue to enjoy the benefits of their earlier industrialization. Rather than giving us leverage, the US failure to recognize the problem and do something about it has actually impeded efforts to get other nations to do their fair share.
Second, unlike unilaterally reducing trade barriers, which can harm domestic industries by making it easier for imported goods to compete, efforts to reduce carbon emissions actually make our domestic industries more competitive. Although there are short term costs to improving the energy-efficiency of buildings, to increasing our reliance on solar, wind and nuclear power, and to improving vehicle mileage, in the long run all of these investments actually save money, while they reduce our dependence on foreign oil. So there is no disadvantage to making unilateral carbon reductions that will improve our country's economic performance.
(beach photo from Redoubt Reporter)