Monday, February 11, 2008

Bring Third World Countries to Center Stage

As cynical as this may sound, third world countries should be playing as big of a role, if not a larger role in mitigating the affects of global warming. The current position on this, that has been widely accepted by many, is that it should be industrialized nations, like the U.S. and countries in the European Union for instance, that should significantly reduce emissions, and that less severe restrictions should be placed on industrialzing countries, like China and India. I've only come to the recent realization that this philosophy is absurd.

Don't get me wrong, I think that the United States has an obligation to be a world leader in reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions. I think we should be THE leader in this area. However, to assume that third world countries can't handle the responsibility of taking on new and cleaner technologies is turning our shoulders to history.

During the industrial revolutions of the 19th and 20th Centuries in the Western world, new technologies were being developed that had previously not existed. In all likelyhood, the new technologies that we will be using to reduce pollution in the atmosphere will be built in China and India anyways, so what's to say that they can't use it too? Who says that they need to go down the same, polluting path that the rest of the world has been on for the past hundred and fifty years before deciding to switch to cleaner sources of energy when it's too late?

Many of the technologies that we are currently developing, like electric and hydrogen powered cars, wind turbines for generating power, and even to a certain extent some other forms of energy like geothermal and solar, have existed conceptually for over a century. For example, the first test of geothermal energy was in 1904 the first working solar cells were made in 1883.

Did you know that before the innovation of the assembly line, most cars were actually electric powered? The internal cumbustion engine that has dominated cars for the past century was popularized by the reduced cost that was brought about by Henry Ford beating everyone to the punch and making the internal combustion engine car a viable piece of technology, even as electric cars were still relatively cheap. The reason that electric hasn't become more popular in the time since is the relatively easy and cheap access to oil and the capacity of batteries.

Wind turbines have been around for nearly 2,000 years. While their use has varied over the ages, from milling grain products to running early industrial facilities, their introduction as a cheap source of renewable energy has gained momentum in recent decades.

What's my point to all of this? I think it's rediculous that there are people who think that post-industrial countries should carry the brunt of the task of cleaning up. It took Western civilization 200 years to develop the technologies we have now. It also took that same 200 years to pollute the atmosphere to the point we're at right now. I know some of my critics out there might argue back on this point, but the simplest logic behind why global warming is happening is that 200 years of constant polluting can't not be doing anything the planet. Take a look at this picture of China right now. The left is a clear day and the right is what happens when the smog moves in. It could be an extreme case, but sights like this were commonplace throughout our industrial revolution. Remember, no environmental regulations existed to prevent this from happening at the time, they do now.

It's for this reason that industrializing nations need to take an active role in fighting global warming. They don't exist in some sort of parallel universe, where what they're doing doesn't make a difference to what we do. In fact, as some satellite imagery might suggest, China is contributing to air pollution over the United States.

I don't want to sound like I'm giving third world countries the short end of the stick. The United States needs to get its act together and come up with an effective energy policy that mirrors Kyoto, since our President has refused to sign it for 'economical reasons.' I'm sorry, but as someone who would like to have a recognizable world to live in when I'm older and for my children and grandchildren, 'economic reasons' is a really bad excuse. Please take into account the long term needs of everyone before making a decision like that.

*Note: Spellcheck isn't working, I probably misspelled something.


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