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Without an Asteroid-Annihilating Rocketship, We're Toast

Posted: 12/08/11 11:29 AM ET

Dear world,

WE HAVE AN ANNOUNCEMENT TO MAKE: there is a giant asteroid headed towards Earth. All the astrophysicists and rocket scientists and brain surgeons agree with 98% certainty that it is on-course to run smack into our planet by 2017. Global leaders have gathered to discuss solutions to the dire situation and are willing to act swiftly and decisively. The US and China have negotiated a historic, legally binding agreement to scale-up existing technology to send a rocketship into space designed to destroy the asteroid. However, there is one caveat: due to political and budgetary constraints, the planet-saving-agreement required for deploying the asteroid-annihilating-rocketship won't be signed until 2020. Tragically, that is three years after the asteroid will have blown us all to smithereens, and herein lies the predicament.

Ok, so we pulled a fast one on you. There is no asteroid projected to destroy the planet by 2017 -- but there might as well be. This time frame and the threats being posed to our way of life are indisputably real. Just last month, the International Energy Association (IEA) released the World Energy Outlook Report, which stated that in order to avoid catastrophic impacts from climate change, the global community must take action by 2017. This doesn't mean we have five years to sit back, relax and get the ball rolling in 2017. That means we only have five years to come up with, agree upon, and implement a plan to phase-out fossil fuels and embrace alternative, low-carbon energy resources instead.

As you read this, world leaders are preparing to pack up and leave Durban, South Africa after two weeks of negotiations for the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties. During the summit, leaders agreed to the idea of a legally binding treaty to limit emissions. China would be open to signing a legally binding treaty--just as long as it was enforced after 2020. The EU would agree to second round of emission-reduction targets, assuming all major emitters comply with legally binding cuts, starting in 2020. The U.S. envoy Todd Stern said that, "as long as it applies to all the major players" the United States has nothing against a post-2020 treaty. This is all great, except 2020 is not 2017. Essentially, our world leaders will build the proverbial rocketship to destroy the asteroid projected to hit the Earth in 2017, just as long as they don't have to get to work until 2020. Is it us, or is this whack?

Rather than lead, the US has taken on the role of obstructionist. Instead of meeting the previously set obligations it would rather follow "voluntary" targets. This is a nice idea but in the real world, "voluntary" goals are rarely achieved. If you sent your kid to a school where homework was voluntary would they do it? What if taxes were voluntary? Would you pay them? Work? Didn't you hear? It's voluntary! Go on home and take a nap instead.

To be fair, the US has made progress on domestic environmental policies. Just yesterday, our President said he would veto any attempt made by Congress to tie the Keystone XL oil pipeline to a payroll tax cut extension. In the past few months, the Obama administration has successfully implemented new fuel efficiency standards, established federal rules requiring better pollution controls at coal facilities, and pushed forward with a $4 billion buildings retrofit initiative -- just to name a few recent accomplishments. Unfortunately, these efforts, while noble and noteworthy, are simply not drastic enough to meet the enormity of the challenges at hand.

The fact of the matter is that even if we were able to achieve a carbon-negative economy in the developed world, the majority of greenhouse gas emissions will come from developing nations. To point fingers and place blame as to who got us into this mess is beside the point. We are all guilty and we will all be impacted from our collective inaction. Global leaders, you are running out of excuses and we are running out of time. The U.S. has a chance to show some honor, now, when it counts, by stepping up and saving not only our species, but also our planet. We must come to terms with reality and do what has to be done while we still have time to do it.

World, we've got the technology to build the asteroid-annihilating rocketship so why stop at building the launchpad? That's a start, but it's nowhere near enough. The fact of the matter is that the asteroid, or the planet, won't wait till 2020, and neither can we.