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Effective climate change strategies call for new rules in global politics and economics

To combat global warming, we'll need to change the rules that underlay the global economy, transform global energy and allot carbon emissions much more fairly across the globe, said Timothy Wirth, president of the U.N. Foundation and Better World Fund.

"In a healthy society, the rules are constantly changing to reflect gained wisdom. The rules today are made on the assumption of abundance, and these are the rules that have to be changed," said Wirth, delivering the talk, "The New International Economic Order," the 2008 Jill and Ken Iscol Distinguished Environmental Lecture in Call Auditorium, April 17.

"For energy companies, the old rule was to sell more power, make more money," Wirth said. "But the new rule should be to provide consumers with the services they need. New rules will allow companies to earn money from efficiency."

Wirth has a long history of environmental policy making. A former U.S. senator from Colorado, Wirth was undersecretary of state for global affairs during the Clinton administration, worked with Vice President Al Gore on global environmental and population issues and supported the Kyoto Protocol. The U.N. Foundation and Better World Fund build and implement public-private partnerships to address the world's most pressing problems.

The problem of climate change, Wirth explained, will have to be solved with global politics. "It is our challenge to figure out a fair and equitable way to share our global commons, such as air and water," he said.

Referencing Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, he suggested cutting carbon emissions so that every individual would be allotted the same amount. We're far from equal allotments now, Wirth explained, with each U.S. citizen emitting 20 tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year, while the average is 11 tons per person in Germany, 3 tons per person in China, and 1 ton per person in India.

Wirth was harshly critical of the current administration's unresponsiveness to environmental issues: "It is impossible to understand how these men can look at pictures of their grandchildren and continue to do what they've been doing." For these men, Wirth emphasized, "'war profiteer' is too kind a word."

Wirth's take-home message, however, was far less cynical. He expressed hope that, in the next decade, we will see a transformation in global energy - a $1 trillion business - and that there will be enormous economic opportunities for Cornell students.

"There's an extraordinary opportunity for us to influence the economy, and to recommit ourselves to global equity and public policy," he said. "It's the most promising opportunity I've seen in my lifetime."

Graduate student Melissa Rice is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.

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