One of my favorite sayings is that “years from now, environmentalists will look back on the current obsession with global warming and say that it did incredible harm to real environmental progress.” The reason is that there are many environmental problems worse than the likely impact of man-made global warming that would cost substantially less money to solve. The focus on climate change has sucked all the oxygen out of every other environmental improvement effort.
The recent Obama climate discussions with China are a great example. China has horrendous environmental problems that need to be solved long before they worry about CO2 production.
Take coal plants. Coal plants produce a lot of CO2, but without the aid of modern scrubbers and such, they also produce SOx, NOx, particulates matter and all the other crap you see in the Beijing air. The problem is that the CO2 production from a coal plant takes as much as 10-100x more money to eliminate than it takes to eliminate all the other bad stuff.
While economically rational technology exists to get rid of all the other bad stuff from coal (technology that is currently in use at most US coal plants), there is no reasonable technology to eliminate CO2 from coal. The only option is to substitute things like wind and solar which are much more expensive, in addition to a number of other drawbacks.
What this means is that the same amount of money needed to replace a couple percent of the Chinese coal industry with carbon-less technologies could probably add scrubbers to all the coal plants. Thus the same money needed to make an only incremental change in CO2 output would make an enormous change in the breath-ability of air in Chinese cities.
So if we care about the Chinese people, why are we pushing them to worry about CO2?
PS- by the way, there have been a number of studies that have attributed a lot of the Arctic and Greenland ice melting to the albedo effect of coal combustion particulate matter from China deposited on the ice. The same technology that would make Beijing air breathable might also reduce Arctic ice melts.