Rational irrationality

Fairness and one of its paradoxes

Bloomberg reports:

India will resist pressure from the Obama administration to accept legally binding caps on its carbon emissions, the South Asian nation's environment minister told visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have been among the lowest emissions per capita, face to actually reduce emissions," Jairam Ramesh said at a meeting today with Clinton in Gurgaon near New Delhi, according to a statement he issued to reporters. "And as if this pressure was not enough, we also face the threat of carbon tariffs on our exports to countries such as yours."

Mr. Ramesh rightly and therefore rationally believes India is not a major culprit in the climate crisis and that India will not develop if it must confront severe energy resource constraints. Now, if I correctly understand his position, Ramesh also wrongly supposes that regulating carbon emissions comprise a zero-sum game in which India can increase its emissions at the expense of reckless consumers like the United States. Incidentally, he can hold this belief while also asserting that carbon emissions are indeed dangerous. But can India or another late developer industrialize (that is, develop) without adversely affecting the environment? I would think not. The reason: The rate of carbon emissions today, when compared to the capacity of the global environment to support the world's present and probable future population, is such that carbon usage may be best considered a negative-sum game in which, at a future time, everyone will lose absolutely because of the global catastrophe this usage rate will cause. If this conjecture is at all accurate, then the paramount goal for the world ought to be the creation of a globally sustainable life via the reduction of carbon emissions. The goal the world ought to derive from this paramount goal: To quickly and absolutely reduce carbon emissions. A binding treaty signed by all nations on the planet would be one component in any strategy meant to realize this goal. Yet, even given the existence of such a treaty, the global effort to achieve these goals does not relieve the United States of its special burden. That burden: America has a special responsibility or duty to reduce its energy consumption given the rate of its past and present consumption of the world's energy.

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