In Jakarta, OPEC oil ministers have just approved a 10 percent rise in petroleum production. Their rationale: A humming global economy will need more fuel.
But look northward. In Kyoto, Japan, what might be called ministers of global warming are hashing out whether to roll back greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent, 5 percent, or 0 percent below 1990 levels by about 2010. Greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide in particular, are believed by a majority of climate scientists to cause a gradually warming planet. That means potential for rising oceans, crop losses, spreading deserts.
Do the math. Even if OPEC nations hold back on that 10 percent increase (a doubtful supposition since they often exceed quotas), they'll still be supplying more of the fuels that create most greenhouse gas emissions.
A generalized formula would show P (population growth) times G (greenhouse emissions per capita) = W (surface warming caused by trapped solar heat).
Enter complexity. Global population is rising. BUT its rate of growth is declining. Global prosperity (and expectations for rising living standards) demand continuing economic growth, built on energy-using manufacturing. BUT much of that manufacturing is becoming more energy-efficient. Destruction of C02-swallowing forests and plant-covered land must be balanced against reforestation efforts to figure the net rise of carbon dioxide in Earth's "greenhouse ceiling."
In the past century, nations have agreed on regulating such diverse "needs" as radio frequencies, air routes, nuclear byproducts, and pesticides. But never has a subject potentially touched so many individual lives: factory workers, drivers, farmers, householders in cold climates, millions living on low-lying land.
So how should the sharply split delegates of the US, Europe, Japan, and a majority of developing nations compromise in Kyoto?
We continue to favor:
* Modest cutting back of gas emissions rather than unrealistically sharp cutbacks that result in failure or cheating. This suggests something close to the Japanese 5 percent goal.
* Prompt cuts in trade barriers on environmental efficiency equipment.
* Official encouragement of a system of tradeable credits among industries and nations. National quotas are more likely to be met if inherent unevennesses among industries can be bartered away in a free market.
* Further encouragement of already promising research on technologies that create new emissions-reducing industrial processes. In short, cleaner burning and higher miles per gallon on existing fuels, and faster development of cost-efficient alternative energy sources.
* No "quota queens." Any favoritism, whether of the energy guzzling US or late-industrializing nations, only tends to cause unwelcome migrations of labor and distortions of economies.
If nations commit proven human ingenuity to a doable goal, they can succeed. That requires a realistic start at finding the doable before setting more stringent goals.