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Why latest failure of global warming talks may be a success

The weak outcome of the climate change talks in Doha only add to the momentum toward solutions at the local level, where values on the common good are more easily shared.


A parking structure at the University of California San Diego uses innovative solar trees to collect renewable energy from the Sun.

Mike Blake / Reuters

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Another worldwide conference on climate change – the 18th one since 1992 – ended last Saturday with little to show for it. The minimal result – an extension of the largely ineffectual Kyoto Protocol – has added to growing pessimism over the ability of nations to agree on a new treaty to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet this gloom has an upside. It is reinforcing attention on the ways that individuals are banding together to combat global warming. In fact, many activists now argue that local efforts – in which people with similar values toward managing Earth’s resources join in collective action – may be a strong viable solution.

“We desperately need to combine action by regions, municipalities, citizens with this global approach. That is becoming more and more evident,” said Denmark’s Energy Minister Martin Lidegaard after the meeting in Doha, Qatar.

Take, for example, the fact that the United States has no explicit mandate on individuals to reduce carbon emissions. Yet more than 1,000 mayors and 30 states have climate action plans. And tens of thousands of groups have sprung up to promote changes in behavior, from buying local food to using solar panels to biking to work.


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