For a long while now, I’ve watched the US reaction to the global warming debate with real interest. Going back as far as 2001, I’ve been fascinated by our absolute refusal to join international conversations about reducing carbon emissions—even as science continues to prove time and again that carbon emissions must be reduced in order to prevent environmental degradation…and possible destruction.

While the rest of the modern world continues to take great strides towards holding themselves accountable for serious action around reducing emissions—consider that the EU has set the ambitious goal of reducing carbon emissions by 20-30% of 1990 rates by 2020—-the US continues to sit on the sidelines, arguing that setting hard targets for emissions cuts is unfair to developed countries and that predicting the amount of carbon emitted by a growing economy 20 years into the future is simply impossible.

Instead, we argue that hard targets should be set aside, replaced by vague statements about being “committed to” reductions and “negotiating improvements” over time.  Here’s what Harlan Watson—our chief negotiator on climate change—said yesterday in Bali at an international conference on climate change: “We don’t think it’s prudent or reasonable to start off with some set of numbers. That’s what negotiations are going to be for.”

The reason this sits wrong in the pit of my stomach is that our government seems to have completely embraced hard targets for education, haven’t they?  After all, we’ve been told that “100% of our students” are going to be on grade level by 2014.

We’ve been given specific targets for student growth for every year between now and then, too—and when we don’t meet those targets, we’re ridiculed in the press, called failures, and taken over by outside agencies. Despite working in a field that is easily as unpredictable as climate change, our government has no troubles setting hard targets for schools?

Starting off with “some set of numbers” didn’t seem to bother anyone when No Child Left Behind was passed. Coercive accountability was seen as the only way to get unresponsive schools to “shape up,” and urgency was necessary because to wait any longer was morally wrong.

So why are hard targets appropriate for education, but not appropriate for fighting global warming?  Aren’t both issues equally important?

Interesting, huh?

Love to hear your thinking because I’m confused.

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