The world’s leading climate scientists issued a stark warning in October: Global greenhouse gas-emissions must go down 40 percent to 50 percent by 2030 to head off the most severe effects of climate change.

But in southern Poland, at the second and final week of the most important international climate summit since the 2015 Paris Conference, a surprising coalition of nations challenged the report’s findings.

Three of the dissenters were Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia. The fourth country was the United States of America.

You don’t need to be a climate scientist to look at that lineup and figure out that we are on the wrong side.

The first three countries are autocratic states in which all power is in the hands of an elite enriched by oil and gas extraction. None of them is a democracy, so none has to consider public opinion or the needs of people who will suffer from drought, famine, disease, wildfires or severe storms.

But the United States? It’s true that we are the No. 1 producer of oil and gas and, after China, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, but we are also a democracy, so our government is supposed to consider the health and well-being of all Americans, not just the oil companies.


And since we have the world’s biggest and most diverse economy, advances in carbon-free energy would generate economic activity here that would at least replace any losses from decreased demand for oil and gas, as long as we maintain our leadership role in innovation. But instead of leading, we are standing in the way.

“The United States is now the No. 1 combined oil and gas producer in the world,” said Wells Griffith, the Department of Energy’s leader for international energy issues. “All energy sources are important, and they will be used unapologetically.”

No one is looking for an apology. The world is looking for policies that would keep the Earth from warming 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the upper limit if we collectively hope to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, including a refugee crisis that would dwarf the current migration of 65 million people.

Responding to this challenge would require the kind of steadfast international effort that it took to fight World War II and the Cold War, where we took a leadership role. Before we go any farther down the wrong road, we should take a good look at our allies and ask whether we are on the right side this time.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.