Sunday, November 29, 2009

Red flag on the horizon

Green energy: world's newest arms race

Just as the U.S. and China gave a welcome boost to upcoming climate talks, a cache of stolen e-mails was being used last week to discredit scientists who warn of global warming.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, called for an investigation into the e-mails written over 13 years by climate scientists and hacked from the Climate Research Unit at England's University of East Anglia.

An investigation would be fine, as long as it's an honest inquiry not just political grandstanding. The science on which policy is based should withstand tough scrutiny. And it looks bad that a prominent climate scientist considered undermining the peer-review process to stifle dissenting views.

The more telling development, though, by far, is China's intent to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. China announced plans to nearly halve the ratio of emissions to gross domestic product by 2020 and is aggressively pursuing that goal.

Unless Congress quickly gives U.S. business the necessary incentives and tools, China will corner the market on green energy.

Environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. recently wrote that "the Chinese are treating the energy technology competition as if it were an arms race," outstripping U.S. investment in solar and wind technologies and the electric grid.

Despite the e-mail flap, scientific consensus and physical evidence point to a buildup of fossil fuel emissions that threatens to cause catastrophic changes in climate and sea levels.

But, for argument's sake, let's just say that's wrong.

The future still belongs to those who harness free and endless energy from sun, wind and geothermal and make the most efficient use of energy. Even if climate change is a myth, there are security, economic and environmental imperatives for changing our energy ways.

President Barack Obama said he will stop by the climate summit in Copenhagen as he travels to Norway to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize. Obama will offer a 17-percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020. This is the plan the House approved while the Senate demonstrated its inability to walk (health care) and chew gum (energy) at the same time.

The Senate should quit dodging energy legislation.

The U.S. and Chinese goals fall short of what Europe is pledging and what island nations — which would suffer most from rising oceans — are demanding.

Defenders of the energy status quo will point out that China's emissions would still rise as its economy grows while Obama promises an absolute reduction in U.S. emissions.

China, with four times the U.S. population and less than a third of U.S. GDP, has vivid memories of mass starvation and says it must keep increasing GDP.

To ensure that China's growth doesn't come at this country's expense, the U.S. should commit itself to winning the green-energy race.

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