Climate Change Support Builds, but Will it Be Enough?

Last Updated Sep 17, 2009 8:32 AM EDT

There are plenty of people who are apathetic, or outright hostile, to the idea of climate change. But the perception that business is aligned against it is shifting, helped in part by petitions like the one just signed by a group of investors collectively representing $14 trillion dollars.

The group's prescriptions are pretty standard fare, along with its ringing quotes ("We cannot drag our feet on the issue," says the head of the New York State Common Retirement Fund), but it's really the financial weight of the members that is intended to get attention. The list of signatories itself is an odd jumble -- where else would the Church of Sweden appear beside private equity titan BlackRock and the Illinois State Board of Investment?

All three can be comforted by knowing their family doctors may be on their side, too. Top experts writing in two medical journals, The Lancet and BMJ, just published a concerned editorial about the effects of climate change on international health, from both extreme weather and the spread of diseases like malaria and West Nile virus.

But these scattered attempts to get attention aren't catching the right ears. Democrats in the Senate, struggling with healthcare, have been quietly spreading the idea of delaying any climate legislation until next year for the past several months, a refrain just taken up by Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

The problem with a delay is on a greater level than just national politics. With the Copenhagen climate talks coming in December, a failure to pass even modest laws in the United States could not only weaken the country's claim to authority, but discourage other nations from making much of an effort.

All of which leads David Victor, a professor at the University of California, to suggest that we give up on preventing climate change. The world is "doomed to experience some global warming," he says, writing in Nature, simply because nations haven't been able to take action alone, much less as a group.

The answer, says Victor, is a change in perception -- instead of talking about environmental problems, the handful of countries who produce most emissions should hash out new trade and enforcement agreements, creating a playing field designed to reduce warming. But with those same countries proving most resistant to change, that solution may prove just as difficult.