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What kind of planet will the youth of today inherit?

If predictions about the impact of climate change are correct, future generations will face much harsher lives. However, most climate scientists think that the worst effects of climate change can be mitigated if large reductions in greenhouse gases are made immediately.

Unfortunately, the U.S. remains an obstacle.

The U.S. argues reductions will harm its economy. However, the widely acclaimed 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change challenges this belief. This review, conducted for the British government, concluded that the benefits of strong, early action on climate change considerably outweigh the costs of not acting. The report also found that dealing with climate change is the pro-growth strategy for the longer term for both richer and poorer nations.

The U.S. also opposes any treaty mandating large cuts in its greenhouse gas emissions unless developing nations such as China and India are also required to make cuts. However Bolivia, China, India and other developing nations point out that the developed nations have greatly benefited from the use of fossil fuels and are primarily responsible for climate change. The developed world therefore owes developing countries large reparations.

To date, developed nations haven’t shared the latest energy technologies or paid the estimated $50 billion annually in reparations that are needed to allow the developing nations to improve the lives of their people while reducing emissions.

Developed nations also have been pushing the cap-and-trade approach for reducing emissions. Wall Street is licking its lips in anticipation of a huge market in carbon that would allow more complex trading opportunities.

However, Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister, has raised concern about the abuse and fraud potential in a poorly regulated carbon trading system. In addition, James Hansen, among the earliest scientific voices warning about warming, sees this market approach as being grossly ineffective. He compares this approach to the selling of indulgences. Hansen instead calls for a tax on carbon as a way to reduce emissions.

Making matters worse, dinosaurs in the Senate make it unlikely that even a bad climate-change bill could pass. Sen. James Inhofe recently said, “And there is no way in the world that the Kerry-Boxer Bill on the floor of the Senate will even come up for a vote. It’s dead, gone.”

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Ron Forthofer is a retired professor of biostatistics and a former Green Party candidate for Congress and governor.

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