If a colossal meteorite were hurtling toward earth and scientists unanimously agreed that humanity faced imminent extinction, it's safe to assume that nations and peoples would set aside their differences to save the planet.
Or - human nature being what it is - maybe they wouldn't.
The situation is infinitely more complicated when it comes to global climate change. As a two-week summit begins today in Copenhagen, the debate rages on between a majority working feverishly to forestall planetary cataclysm and a minority that says there is nothing to be alarmed about.
A 2007 survey found 54 percent of Israelis believed global warming was a pressing problem. A new poll found that only 48% still felt so. A recent Gallop poll found that one percent of Americans think the environment is the No. 1 issue. The number of Americans who "believe in" global warming has dropped to 57%.
And an EU poll found that just 50% of Europeans see climate change as the biggest issue facing humanity.
Who can blame Israelis - worried about jobs, social cleavages and the pending release of 1,000 terrorists, not to mention the prospect that Iran will detonate a nuclear device over Tel Aviv - for not putting global warming at the top of their concerns?
THAT THE globe is heating up is pretty widely accepted. Ice caps are melting; sea levels are rising. A relatively small increase in temperatures can cause massive environmental catastrophe. The earth needs just the right amount of gases in the atmosphere. Too little and the temperature would plummet; too much and greenhouse gases could cause global warming.
What is disputed is whether humans burning fossil fuels are to blame for climate change.
So it comes down to this. Wager that the prevailing thesis about planetary warming is correct, that contamination by humans is responsible for global warming, and you're morally obligated to do something about it. Fifty percent of anthropogenic global warming is carbon based, while the other half results from other man-made sources like burning of cow dung.
We think it is prudent to gamble on the side of those who would sensibly but systematically reduce emissions. Working for more breathable air and a reduced dependency on the oil cartel is not a bad thing, even if it turns out to have no impact on climate change.
The problem remains human nature. Some countries will exploit the crisis or try to catch a "free ride" on the sacrifices of the well-meaning. In 1997, industrialized nations agreed to emission targets in a pact known as the Kyoto Protocol, but these goals have not actually been implemented. The post-industrial European Union has pledged to cut its emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
If the problem is indeed man-made, industrialized and post-industrialized countries are inadvertently responsible for the bulk of heat-trapping pollutants. But it is the denizens of bottom tier countries who will suffer the most if the worst forecasts about global warming come to pass. Meanwhile, rapidly developing countries such as China and India want the economic benefits of industrialization, but not its political responsibilities.
It does not instill a sense of "we're all in this together" to watch some leaders in the non-industrialized world salivating at the prospect of a massive redistribution of wealth - actually economic and environmental reparations - to help them cope with the crisis ahead.
<1>The Economist argues that greenhouse emissions can be reduced without impoverishing humanity. We don't see how, unless countries stop playing the blame game and observe a "from each according to their ability" motto.
THIS COUNTRY will be represented in Copenhagen by technocrats, MKs, ministers and environmental campaigners. Like many world leaders, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is waiting until the last minute before deciding whether to attend.
Israel is too tiny a country to have much of an impact on global emissions. Still, successive governments have committed to voluntarily adhere to international emissions targets. The State Comptroller's Office, however, has complained that a consolidated national plan remains overdue. In Israel, 87% of total greenhouse gas emissions are energy related. So we need to very substantially cut the growth of emissions by 2020.
From electric cars, solar energy and wind-power to safe nuclear energy, Israel is capable of leading by example on alternative energy. It should.