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Yash Gupta
Business School Dean

Yash Gupta

Yash Gupta is Professor and Dean of The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

Do the right thing even if it hurts

Q: Now that even China has put a price on carbon emissions, the U.S. is the only major economy yet to take action on global warming. Why does this issue seem to defy political leadership? Who, in your opinion, is MOST responsible for the leadership failure--President Obama and Senate leaders for not forcing a deal? Republicans unwilling to consider anything that might raise energy prices? Coal and oil state Democrats? Republican moderates who bowed to conservative pressure?

Winston Churchill famously said that Americans will always do the right thing, after they've exhausted all the alternatives. We'll eventually do the right thing by taking smart, forceful steps toward curbing our emissions of carbon. But certainly our nation has been slow to meet this issue head-on, and the blame can be laid on the lack of political leadership at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

In Congress, especially in the House of Representatives, the constant fretting over the next election has kept our leaders from taking an appropriately tough-minded, if politically hazardous, stand on global warming. Such measures usually involve added costs for consumers, perhaps higher prices at the gas pump, and most politicians want to avoid that kind of risk, particularly when the economy is struggling and unemployment is high.

The White House has been guilty of the same sort of foot dragging. The Obama administration missed a golden opportunity to lead the way on a new energy policy in the wake of the BP oil spill. The president could have said, "Look, folks, this is the consequence of the dangerous way we quench our thirst for energy. This has to change, and we need to start changing now." Political success is often a matter of timing, and here the president blew a chance to create significant progress on a major issue.

Meanwhile, look at the Chinese. They've long been regarded as one of the leading polluters in the world, but now they're creating a booming industry around the development of anti-pollution technology. They're even attracting some of the brightest engineers from the U.S. to work in China on these innovations. It's hard to imagine our political leaders promoting such technology when they have trouble even agreeing that global warming is a problem.

We all recognize that this is a difficult issue for our politicians to tackle, but that's what true leadership is about, articulating the urgency of the problem at hand and forging the will to produce a solution, even if it means one's popularity takes a hit.

By Yash Gupta

 |  August 3, 2010; 10:32 AM ET
Category:  Failures , Government leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: How Joe Biden can help working parents | Next: Stuck with carbon lock-in


Please report offensive comments below.

If you actually looked at the article from China Daily, you would have noticed that the premise of the question, "even China has put a price on carbon emissions" is NOT TRUE !

There is no price.

Posted by: AndrewDover | August 5, 2010 12:04 PM
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China is NOT a good model for the US. Frankly is says a lot about the mindset of the climate panel and the WP that they would even suggest that we do such a thing. China is a country with a centrally controlled economy, no democracy, no freedom of religion, no freedom of the press, no freedom on the internet, not to mention the fact that is has recently become the worlds largest and fastest growing source of pollution. (The panel can bash the US all they want but CO2 emissions from the US have actually leveled off over the last decade which is something you can NOT say for China). Because it is a totalitarian state China does have the capability to force unpopular decisions on its population and force compliance at gunpoint, however some of their historic centrally commanded programs have been economic, environmental, or humanitarian disasters. How about "The Great Leap Forward" when they forced all the peasants to melt down all their personal possessions to produce steel? Forced abortions for population control? Desertification, evicting millions to build the three Gorge's Dam, and becoming the world's largest CO2 emitter. THAT is how china does things, and that is the climate panel's model for the US.

Posted by: afpre42 | August 5, 2010 6:47 AM
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