Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

A nation of Neros

By Jamie Cate

We live like kings.  At least that's what most of the world thinks of Americans, economic downturn notwithstanding.  And humanity throughout history would see us the same way.  How did we get to the quality of life that would make emperors jealous?  We got here with fossil fuels, and lots of them.  The energy sector accounts for many trillions of dollars a year in the world economy.

What can we expect out of any agreement in Copenhagen?  We can look at the example of Kyoto, and see that nations will find any number of accounting loopholes to get out of meeting the targets that have been or will be set.  International flights are one example.  The trillion dollar question (ten trillion?) is whether an agreement in Copenhagen will have any practical meaning.

My biggest fear is not that no agreement will come out of Copenhagen.  I fear we won't have the means or desire to pay for it.  With the federal government running trillion-plus dollar deficits for the forseeable future, we can't look to government to pay for the changes in energy infrastructure that we need.  It will take multiple trillions of dollars to rebuild and replace our present infrastructure for a low-carbon future.  Unless President Obama can lead the nation and convince all sectors of industry to tackle the problem of global warming, we're just fiddling while the world burns.