08/17/2010 02:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Blame It on Sunspots

It's a good thing we don't care about carbon emissions. Otherwise we might be more than a little concerned when the Petermann Glacier in Greenland calves off a chunk of ice several times the size of the island of Manhattan. Or when record-breaking, scorching summer temperatures and prolonged drought have turned Russia's parched boreal forest into a giant tinderbox, sending Moscow residents scurrying indoors to avoid the suffocating smoke and reducing the country's wheat harvest by a third. Or when the worst monsoon rains in 80 years in Pakistan have caused unprecedented flooding and devastation in the country, leaving millions stranded.

It might have been fun exposing overzealous claims about the imminent demise of the Himalayan glaciers, but it seems no one is laughing about global climate change now. And with good reason.

According to a recently released study by NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), during the first six months of 2010, the combined ocean and land temperature was the hottest on record. This summer is continuing the record-setting trend. And just in case you thought this year might be an anomaly, the warming trend so far is consistent with what NOAA has found over the last decade across no less than 10 measures of global warming, running the gambit from land and sea temperatures to the decline in Arctic sea ice.

Every year seems to furnish us with more and more graphic images of global climate change. And yet, other than the temporary reprieve we got during the world's deepest post-war recession, there seems to be no let-up in the growth of global carbon emissions.

Of course as long as emissions don't cost anybody anything, why would we expect any halt in emissions growth? After all, the engine of global economic growth still runs on burning coal and oil. And we're certainly no closer to putting a price on carbon emissions today than we were before the much-anticipated global environmental summit in Copenhagen last December.

With most emerging market economies dreaming of emulating China's carbon-spewing industrialization, don't expect any multilateral breakthroughs on global carbon management anytime soon. Nor should we, given the huge disparities in energy consumption per capita between the developed and the developing worlds.

But at the same time, we are no closer to seeing any unilateral steps to price carbon on the part of wealthy emitters like North America, for example. Carbon legislation is effectively dead-ended in Congress with the Waxman-Markey bill unable to pass in the Senate, while legislation isn't even on the drawing board with the Canadian federal government. Like China, North America fears huge adverse economic consequences from pricing the carbon it emits into the atmosphere.

As a result, carbon emissions continue to pose no cost to our economy. Unfortunately, it's becoming harder and harder to say the same about climate change.