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David F. Hales
President, College of the Atlantic

David F. Hales

David F. Hales is the president of the College of the Atlantic in Maine, which in 2007 became the first U.S. higher education institution to achieve carbon neutrality. ALL POSTS

Politics are Insufficient to Meeting Climate Change Challenges

The greatest challenge for the United States will be to ignore the political past, and develop our positions and negotiate as if the quality of our children's lives depended on the outcome... for the simple reason that it does.


Most international negotiations are conducted in an arena dominated by political "realities"; outcomes are usually half-measures, which make little substantive difference in the real world of human behavior and natural systems. Kyoto is a good example; even if the U.S. had ratified, it is likely that we would be very little better off today in terms of reducing and limiting greenhouse gas emissions. And literally every negotiator in Kyoto knew it at the time. We all persuaded ourselves that the deal was the best we could do, and let progress, in Panglossian terms, substitute for the fundamental changes most of us knew then and know now are truly necessary.


All too often negotiators fall into the trap of the diplomatic mind set, playing a game of rhetorical give and take within a framework of what political leaders believe is acceptable. As things now seem to stand, what is acceptable politically will be insufficient to meet the challenge of climate change.


Most negotiators know this. The IPCC knows this. We have all the tools necessary to change the course of history. We know what the world will be like if we don't make necessary changes. Only whether any nations will step forward with courageous leadership is yet unclear.


The United States has a singular responsibility, not because of what we have or have not done in the past, but because we can actually make a difference for the future of this planet. Some will say that the perfect should not be allowed to be the enemy of the possible, and there is great truth in that. It is even more true that we can not allow the politically expedient to keep us from doing what is necessary.

By David F. Hales  |  October 6, 2009; 10:57 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I agree that the United States has the singular responsibility to apply all of our understanding, engineering and technical abilities and talents and financial resources at this issue and do so now. If we don't do it, it won't get done...that's the bottom line.

Posted by: wjohnson2 | October 8, 2009 8:03 AM
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Maybe we need well-informed citizens as part of the delegation. Their job would be to keep the negotiators focused on the practical effect of the words, and not to let them get diverted by the history of the chain of documents that led us to this point, and the painstaking selection of words that each country can take home as a victory because they each read them their own way.

Posted by: bmchales | October 7, 2009 7:28 PM
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