COPENHAGEN -- I've long believed there are two basic strategies for dealing with climate change -- the "Earth Day" strategy and the "Earth Race" strategy. The Copenhagen climate summit was based on the Earth Day strategy. It was not very impressive. The conference produced a series of limited, conditional, messy compromises, which it is not at all clear will get us any closer to mitigating climate change at the speed and scale we need.
Indeed, anyone who watched the chaotic way this conference was "organized," and the bickering by delegates with which it finished, has to ask whether this 17-year U.N. process to build a global framework to roll back global warming is broken: too many countries -- 193 -- and too many moving parts. I leave here feeling strongly that America needs to focus on its own Earth Race strategy instead. Let me explain.
The Earth Day strategy said that the biggest threat to mankind is climate change, and we as a global community have to hold hands and attack this problem with a collective global mechanism for codifying and verifying everyone's carbon-dioxide emissions and reductions and to transfer billions of dollars in clean technologies to developing countries.
The only way that might happen is if we had "a perfect storm" -- big enough to finally end the global warming debate but not so big that it ended the world.
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Does that mean this whole Earth Day strategy is a waste? No. The scientific understanding about the climate that this U.N. process has generated and its spur to action is valuable. And the mechanism this conference put in place to enable developed countries and companies to offset their emissions by funding protection of tropical rain forests, if it works, would be hugely valuable.
Still, I am an Earth Race guy. Averting catastrophic climate change is huge. The only engine big enough to impact Mother Nature is Father Greed: the Market. Only a market, shaped by regulations and incentives to stimulate massive innovation in clean, emission-free power sources can make a dent in global warming. And no market can do that better than America's.
Therefore, the goal of Earth Racers is to focus on getting the U.S. Senate to pass an energy bill, with a long-term price on carbon that will really stimulate America to become the world leader in clean-tech.
In the Cold War, we had the space race: who could be the first to put a man on the moon. Today, we need the Earth Race: who can be first to invent the most clean technologies so men and women can live safely here on Earth.
Maybe the best thing President Barack Obama could have done here in Copenhagen was to make clear that America intends to win that race. All he needed to do in his speech was to look China's prime minister in the eye and say: "I am going to get our Senate to pass an energy bill with a price on carbon so we can clean your clock in clean-tech. Game on." Because once we get America racing China, China racing Europe, Europe racing Japan, Japan racing Brazil, we can quickly move down the innovation-
manufacturing curve and shrink the cost of electric cars, batteries, solar and wind so these are not luxuries for wealthy nations but commodity items the third world can use and even produce.
If you start the conversation with "climate" you might get half of America to sign up for action. If you start the conversation with giving birth to a "whole new industry" -- one that will make us more energy independent, prosperous, secure, innovative, respected and able to out-green China -- you get the country.
For good reason: Even if the world never warms another degree, population is projected to rise from 6.7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, and more and more people will want to live like Americans. Demand for clean power and energy efficient cars and buildings will go through the roof.
An Earth Race led by America is a much more self-sustaining way to reduce carbon emissions than a festival of voluntary, nonbinding commitments at a U.N. conference.
Let the Earth Race begin.
THE NEW YORK TIMES