A Little Friendly Competition

I would be remiss if I neglected to acknowledge the climate negotiations that have taken place in Cancún over the past couple of weeks. I guess you could say I was a bit cynical — but how could you not be after the disappointment in Copenhagen last year?

In the conference’s 11th hour, participating nations reached an agreement to set up a new fund to help developing nations adapt to climate changes and for countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from The New York Times. But what seems to be lacking from the final agreement is the actual numbers and a concrete goal.

For years, renewable energy advocates in the U.S. have been calling for a renewable electricity standard (RES), or a federal mandate to fulfill a specified percentage of the country’s total energy requirements with renewable energy by a certain year. RES legislation has yet to pass in the U.S. Congress, but these are the kinds of specific goals we need in order to make a significant dent in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and prevent further climate change.

The international Kyoto Protocol does contain specific goals and numbers — the 37 participating industrialized nations and the European community have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by an annual average of 5% over the period from 2008-2012. The U.S., however, failed to ratify the protocol under the George W. Bush administration, rationalizing that if China — although still, technically, a developing nation, did not sign it, then it should not have to, either.

Yes, China is the biggest polluter on the planet. However, the U.S. is number two. But is this really how we want to play? The United States became a world superpower by leading by example. Why not use the same strategy in the 21st century? China is quickly establishing itself as a leader in renewable energy. The country is already home to solar energy giants such as Suntech and Yingli and, thanks to the government’s commitment to clean energy, is also set to increase its wind energy production five-fold over the next 10 years.

The United States is a capitalist country — we are motivated by competition. If we really want to establish ourselves in the world economy and maintain our position at — or at least near — the top in innovation and leadership, it’s time to step it up.

Partisanship has obviously been a major hindrance to accomplishing any kind of climate-change reform. But if we cannot agree on policy, can we at least agree on a little healthy competition? This is a country based on capitalism and free markets, right? I think even our stubborn and often-narrow-minded Congress would agree that we, as a country, should strive to be number one.

When it comes to climate change, is it possible that instead of failing to come to an agreement, that we actually encourage a little competition? Could it be a more productive strategy in the long run?

It sounds condescending to our leaders, and definitely overly simplistic, but I propose a plan: Let’s make it a competition: Can we beat China? What about the EU? Instead of playing the childish game of “He’s not; why do I have to?” let’s make it, “Oh yeah? Look what I can do!” I don’t know of any political representative — of any party — who can’t agree on that mantra.

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