Fast Forward

Ethics and Politics in the Age of Global Warming

For tens of thousands of years, we and our ancestors have treated the earth as a laboratory in which we have tinkered with the forces of nature. From taming fire and harnessing wind to developing antibiotics, the results have often advanced civilization. Yet for the past two centuries, we have been conducting what could be the most momentous and dangerous of all experiments: warming the globe. We started the experiment without meaning to, and, until recently, we did not even know it was under way. Now it may be out of control, threatening to ruin our planet as a home for us and countless other creatures. Avoiding that fate is a test of our humanity.

Fast Forward is equal parts science primer, history lesson, policy prescription, and ethical treatise. This pithy and compelling book makes clear what we know and don’t know about global warming; why the threat demands prudent and urgent action; why the transition to a low-carbon economy will be the most difficult political and economic transaction in history; and how it requires nothing less than a revolution in our sense of civic responsibility.

William Antholis and Strobe Talbott guide the reader through two decades of climate change diplomacy, explaining the national and international factors that have influenced and often impeded the negotiations. Their brisk narrative includes behind-the-scenes coverage of Barack Obama’s impromptu meeting with key leaders in Copenhagen that broke a logjam and salvaged an agreement. The near-disaster of that summit demonstrated how the United Nations cannot move forward fast enough to produce a global deal. Instead, the “Big Four” of the United States, the European Union, China, and India must drive the next stage of the process. Antholis and Talbott also recommend a new international mechanism modeled on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that would monitor national commitments and create incentives for other countries to coordinate their efforts to cut emissions.

Antholis and Talbott put their recommendations for immediate congressional and diplomatic action into the larger context of our obligation to future generations. They note that this theme is stressed by a diverse coalition of religious leaders who are calling for ambitious political action on climate change. The world we leave to our children and grandchildren is not an abstraction, or even just a legacy; we must think about what kind of world that will be in deciding how we live—and act—today.

Book Excerpt:

Leaving a Good Legacy

On May 12, senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman introduced the American Power Act. The proposed law — crafted with the help of Republican Senator Lindsey Graham — brought together a number of elements proposed by environmental groups and businesses to set the country on a new, clean-energy path. As the bill is considered, Kerry and Lieberman will focus on the need to create jobs after the Great Recession and to promote alternatives to fossil fuels. Those who support the legislation will generally play down a politically more complicated purpose: fighting global warming.

Surprisingly, perhaps, it is Graham who has been most forceful in making the case for effective steps to counter climate change. "I have been to enough college campuses to know — if you are 30 or younger, this climate issue is not a debate," he told New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in February. "It's a value ... From a Republican point of view, we should buy into it and embrace it and not belittle them."

Graham is a tough partisan, and he was making a point about the future of the GOP, which he thinks needs younger people in its ranks. Crucially, he also believes that lowering the risk to the planet and the human race from climate change qualifies as a conservative cause. His exhortation, if taken to heart, could prompt Republicans and Democrats to compete for young, environmentally conscious voters. At a time of partisan squabbling, that would benefit us all.

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Interview:

Coauthor William Antholis discusses the book and the global impact from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on ABC News World View. Antholis answers the question, “Who is to Blame?”

Select Reviews:

"Strobe Talbott and Bill Antholis–head and senior fellow respectively of the Brookings Institution, and former stalwarts of the Clinton administration–prefer to describe Copenhagen as a "useful disappointment". In their very timely and fast-paced account of where we are today on the politics of global warming, the authors see Copenhagen as having pointed up the futility of relying on the United Nations as the only vehicle through which to tackle climate change.

"Instead, they argue, the world’s most important powers, particularly the US, China, India and the European Union, should supplement multilateralism with "minilateralism", since the number of participants is inversely related to the speed of what a process can deliver. But that still leaves a lot of players. And the domestic politics have, if anything, become even less favourable in Washington and Europe since last December.

"Indeed, as the authors observe, it was fashionable in the midst of last February’s snowstorm in Washington for Republicans to make jokes about the onset of global warming. Jim DeMint, a famously sceptical senator from South Carolina, even built an impromptu igloo on Capitol Hill to highlight the punchline."

Read the complete review at FT.com »

Advance Praise for the book:

“Strobe Talbott and Bill Antholis have made an admirable and important effort to move beyond the recent political rancor in Washington. They have a plan for leaders who want to be serious about energy and climate. Instead of starting from entrenched ideological base camps, they concentrate on identifying common goals. Reducing our foreign oil dependence, saving Americans money on their energy bills, improving our industrial competitiveness, investing in a cleaner and more diverse energy portfolio, and using domestic fossil fuel resources wisely, while cutting our greenhouse gas emissions are goals on which Republicans and Democrats alike can agree.”
—Senator Richard G. Lugar (R–Ind.)

Fast Forward makes the case in clear, concise, and compelling terms for urgent action and American leadership in addressing the threat that global warming poses to our nation and our planet.”
—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.)

“In Fast Forward William Antholis and Strobe Talbott brilliantly explode the economic and scientific myths about climate change while elevating the political debate to a transgenerational moral crisis. Their synthesis of science, economics, religion and philosophy is a clarion call to action for anyone interested in the future of the planet—which means all of us."
—Andrea Mitchell, NBC News

"Fast Forward is a very rare book about global warming—both sophisticated historically and politically, but also actually engaging! The authors place the challenge within the moral tradition that helped avert the other great modern planetary threat: nuclear holocaust. Succinct and sweeping in scope, despite its brevity, this is the book for briefing busy CEOs and prime ministers contemplating whether this 'climate thing' is real and, if it is, how should we deal with it."
—William K. Reilly, former administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
“William Antholis and Strobe Talbott combine a concise, fast-paced narrative on the evolution of climate change as a national and international issue with a framework for policy that is rooted in deep understanding and practical experience of international affairs. The result is a timely perspective on something whose outcome—whatever the ultimate choices—will be of truly global significance in both environmental and economic terms.”
—Daniel Yergin, author of The Prize: the Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power