In 984 A.D. the Vikings established a remote settlement in Greenland. The chiefs over-used the land and its resources to support for themselves a luxury lifestyle. When this most western outpost of European society collapsed 500 years later, "the chiefs had preserved for themselves the privilege of being the last to starve."
From "Collapse" by Jarred Diamond
Last week Secretary of State John Kerry in a speech delivered in Indonesia called climate change "the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction." He urged Indonesia, and other developing nations, to limit their rapid growth in greenhouse gas emissions.
The developing nations, like Indonesia, have been unwilling at the U.N.-sponsored international conferences on climate change to agree to cut their rapid growth in emissions because of their essential need to reduce the large proportion of their population living in extreme poverty.
However, if they continue to increase emissions at current rates, they will crash the capacity of the planet to support a growing world population of more than 7 billion, bringing the developed nations down with them.
But the stark reality is that no developing nation will reduce greenhouse gas emissions unless the United States and other developed nations first take meaningful steps to assist them in alleviating extreme poverty.
The developing nations have nothing to lose by waiting. We have everything to lose by lecturing them to do more.
The developed nations grew their prosperity by deferring the costs of protecting the capacity of the planet to support human life. As the worst offender, the United States has the largest historical ecological deficit of any nation.
On a per capita basis we, of all the developed nations, are the weapon of mass destruction.
At the U.N. international conferences, we have refused to pay "backwards" for the harm already done in proportion to what we are asking the developing countries to pay "forward" as future prevention. That is what the developing nations have asked for as a basis for reaching an international agreement. By standing firm, all we will gain for ourselves is the privilege of being the last society to collapse.
Edward Renner is a professor in the Honors College of the University of South Florida. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The environmental data is from the Global Footprint Network data base: www.footprintnetwork.org. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.