One of the more sophisticated arguments going around against the Waxman-Markey energy bill is to point out that even if implemented the world will still get a lot warmer as long as China, India, and the rest of the developing world don’t restrain their emissions as well. Or at least a lot of sophisticated people seem to find this argument very clever.
But, obviously, there’s a collective action problem here. Nothing the US can do unilaterally can turn emissions trends around. But at the same time, there’s no prospect for coordinated global action unless the world’s leading power is prepared to take the issue seriously and do something. Would that still leave us with a difficult problem of global coordination? Yes. But does the difficulty of the problem justify delay and inaction? Well, I don’t see how it does. The collective action problem that was hard when Kyoto was being negotiated isn’t going to be any easier later this year at Copenhagen and if we don’t do anything it’s not going to get any easier in 2019. Under the circumstances, there’s no time like the present to get started.