Kevin Trenberth: So What Should Be Done About Climate Change and the Vested Interests?

China now emits more carbon dioxide per year than any other country.  They are changing our atmosphere, and by doing so they are changing our climate.   We ought to be outraged! 

But by the same token, the United States has cumulatively emitted more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other country, and because carbon dioxide has a long lifetime, the US is more responsible for global warming than any other country.  So the Chinese ought to be outraged at the United States.  Where is the sense of outrage?   Instead we go together down a path of mutual destruction of the global climate into one that is much less agreeable for our agriculture and ecosystems, and humans.

It has been wonderful to see many individuals, organizations, companies, cities and countries take on the challenge of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and building a more sustainable future, especially through a strong renewable energy portfolio. 

The problem is that there are real costs associated with these actions and the subsidies received by fossil fuel industries, both directly and by their not paying for the huge costs they cause in terms of air pollution and climate change, and so the playing field is not level. 

Moreover, any one company or country that goes down this route can lose a competitive advantage in the international market place because there are no penalties or tariffs in place to achieve some form of equity.  This is a global problem.  It is an international problem. 

It involves not just the environment, but also the economy, trade, foreign policy, security, sustainability, and the human condition.  It involves not just the current peoples of the Earth but future generations.  And many small countries are powerless to influence their own fate.

The huge denial machine exposed by the documentary “Greedy Lying Bastards” is very well funded by vested interests.  Too many politicians in the United States are bought and sold, and owned by their supporters for their own selfish interests, and with nary a care about the well being of the planet. 

This necessarily is a problem of the “tragedy of the commons”.  In this case the commons is the global atmosphere, shared by all.  The air over China one day resides over the United States five days later, and then Europe five days after that.  But the atmosphere is a dumping ground for all sorts of pollution.  

Fortunately, a lot of visible pollutants wash out in rain storms and do not have a long lifetime.  But some heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide, have a long life and accumulate.  There is a real cost to these emissions, not currently borne by the emitters. 

We need strong good international governance that can impose an equitable carbon tax on all emitters.   This is much easier said than done, but the real challenge is implementation.  How to get there from here. 

The problem can be solved by relatively few countries, and leadership from the United States - largely by dealing properly with the influence of vested interests - could provide the breakthrough needed internationally.

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"Greedy Lying Bastards" investigates the reason behind stalled efforts to tackle climate change despite consensus in the scientific community that it is not only a reality but also a growing problem placing us on the brink of disaster.