The only engine big enough to impact Mother Nature is Father Greed: the Market. Only a market, shaped by regulations and incentives to stimulate massive innovation in clean, emission-free power sources can make a dent in global warming. And no market can do that better than America’s.
Maybe the best thing President Obama could have done here in Copenhagen was to make clear that America intends to win that race. All he needed to do in his speech was to look China’s prime minister in the eye and say: “I am going to get our Senate to pass an energy bill with a price on carbon so we can clean your clock in clean-tech. This is my moon shot. Game on.”
Because once we get America racing China, China racing Europe, Europe racing Japan, Japan racing Brazil, we can quickly move down the innovation-manufacturing curve and shrink the cost of electric cars, batteries, solar and wind so these are no longer luxury products for the wealthy nations but commodity items the third world can use and even produce.I would add only two things:
(i) Even if one completely dismisses projections about climate-change-induced migrations, the development of clean, non-nuclear* energy should be a huge national security priority; there are few things that would benefit us so much as decisively cutting off the steady stream of terrorist petrodollars that have been flowing from the Middle East. I still am mystified by how many of us are gung-ho about using an energy source that puts money into the pockets of our most devoted enemies.
(ii) The United States is the best suited to do the job (for now), but only in principle. With half of the country openly contemptuous both of science and of anything that smacks remotely of environmentalism (because both somehow raise the specter of—gasp!—liberalism), I suspect other countries will take the lead, and ultimately turn us into a technological backwater. Here's hoping I'm wrong.
* Non-nuclear only because of the proliferation concerns that would result from using nuclear energy as the world's primary energy source; otherwise, I don't mind nuclear.