Some in the opposition Republican party have now hit back with their response: not til China goes first.
US Senator David Vitter, a ranking member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, has introduced a bill
that would bar the US from restricting its greenhouse gas emissions until China, Russia and India act first to limit theirs.
Vitter’s office says that the bill is part of a raft of legislation intended to buck the Obama administration’s “far-left environmentalist agenda.” (Vitter proposed a similar bill in 2010 that went nowhere. The Republican leadership has since seen fit to promote him.)
The argument that reduction of US emissions is futile so long as developing economies are not bound to act has been around as long as there has been a public debate on climate change.
In an op-ed arguing in favor of US emission reductions, former White House official Cass Sunstein named this line of reasoning, somewhat bafflingly, the “sophisticated objection
” (it’s more sophisticated, we guess, than the fingers-in-ears, eyes-shut-tight, it’s-not-happening objections of the outright climate deniers). The “sophisticated” argument goes that climate change is a global problem, and any country acting alone to reduce its emissions is well-intentioned but ultimately misguided. Unless other emitters act as well, US efforts to reduce greenhouse gases will only hamper the US economy without seriously improving the state of the climate.
There are a number of problems with this line of reasoning. The US embraced its role as the leading emitter and consumer of global resources for much of the twentieth century, so its objection to US exceptionalism now falls flat. The commentator David Roberts goes further to argue that all people have a moral obligation to address climate change
– including those living below Canada and above Mexico. To understand the likely outcome of inaction and pursue that course anyway is morally indefensible, regardless of what other nations are doing.
Also, if the rest of the world were to adopt this you-first line of thinking, then we are all just going to be stuck forever at the climate starting line, nervously glancing at one other to see who will be bold enough to step out first.