The UN panel meeting in Copenhagen did not mince words about the dangers from climate change if we choose not limit carbon emissions. It declared that we are on a pace to exceed the one trillion ton limit on global emissions in thirty years unless we take strong steps limit emissions or find a war to dispose of them in the ground. They left no doubt about the source of climate change. The changes that we are observing today,, and those that we will see in the future, are the result of human behavior since the industrial revolution. The growth of industrial output in emerging economies has accelerated global warming and we are seeing those changes today in all parts of the world.
The problems that we face from climate change will alter the planet and change the way we live. Human life will be seriously changed and many species will disappear. The obstacles to change are also powerful. A large share of fossil fuel reserves, which are on the balance sheets of the energy companies will have to be kept in the ground. Moreover, energy companies are spending $600 billion per year to find new reserves and they are being provided with $1.2 trillion in subsidies by governments. It is not surprising that governments are timid about limiting emissions. Politicians boast about the discovery of new reserves and the number of jobs that they create by unleashing the greed that motivates producers discover and exploit new reserves. Republicans in particular, claim that they are not scientists and that they are not able to judge the warnings provided by the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community. The public is also confused about the causes of climate change and the present dangers. Many choose to believe the talk radio and TV hosts who are paid well to keep them ignorant of the dangers, and even hostile toward politicians who want take even small steps to reduce carbon emissions.
Nation states have not been able to agree upon targets to limit global emissions. With the exception of Europe, which has recently agreed to an emission target, nation states have been left to take independent actions to reduce emissions. Some states will find ways to free ride on the efforts by others to limit emissions without a binding international treaty. We seem to be on sled that has been picking up speed on its way down a slope towards a steep cliff. It may not be possible to apply the brakes until the cliff is in sight because everyone has been enjoying the ride. By then it will be too late.