What Makes Greenhouse Sense?

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Thomas Schelling’s essay “What Makes Greenhouse Sense” in Foreign Affairs Magazine deals with the need to address the climate problem now, despite the likelihood of its effects being long-term. He begins by stating that the Kyoto protocol does not have to be a partisan issue. Bush failed to send the treaty to the US Congress for ratification because there was no way of knowing whether the United States would be able to comply with its demands of cutting emissions levels significantly below 1990 levels by 2010. The US tends to only sign treaties when it intends to follow them, and in this case that intention was non-existent because of the overwhelming uncertainty.

Next, Schelling notes that despite Bush’s desires, the developing countries will also not agree to any robust greenhouse emissions cuts, despite the fact that climate change will impact developing countries the most because of their agricultural tendencies. He holds that developed countries must first demonstrate their commitment to combat climate change before the developing world signs on. Schelling then addresses the fact that climate change is a very uncertain phenomenon. Nobody truly knows the effects that it will have, and even more fundamentally, the levels of sustainable or safe greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are also highly uncertain. How can steps be made towards progress when a clear goal cannot even be defined? Schelling’s solution is that the regime for fighting climate change should be modeled on the WTO and NATO, where civilized discussion and agreement take place, and commitments to action are seen through to completion. [1]

  1. Thomas C. Schelling, “What Makes Greenhouse Sense?” Foreign Affairs 81:3, (May/June 2002).