The EIA figures that coal will account for only 75 percent of China’s electric generation two decades from now. That’s a slightly smaller share of the pie compared to today. But the pie will be vastly bigger in 2030, so China’s greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation could be roughly three times more than they are today. Factor in hundreds of millions of peasants upgrading from bicycles to motor vehicles, and CO2 emissions soar further.

India’s story is much the same. Its diplomats head to Copenhagen not with an official promise to curb carbon emissions but to cut carbon intensity by 24 percent by 2020. Like China, its emissions will keep rising.

The Los Angeles Times was forced to run an embarrassing correction admitting it had had muddled the distinction between carbon emissions and carbon intensity. That confusion, inspired by media cheerleading for another landmark climate change pact, probably explains most of the sloppy journalism on this important issue. But what is its excuse for blowing coverage of the Obama administration’s strategy?

The White House announced that Obama would travel to Copenhagen to personally pledge that the U.S. intends to cut its own emissions by 17 percent over the next decade compared to 2005 levels. The media reported that correctly, and loudly. But what it failed to note is that this is a promise Obama does not have authority to make on his own. For that Obama needs Capitol Hill, but Senate Democrats have made clear they will not pass any cap-and-trade emissions reduction scheme this year. The chances of getting the full Congress to pass cap-and-trade in 2010, when the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate face re-election, are no less remote.

Perhaps Obama and his friends in the nation’s newsrooms believe that their brand of global warming reporting is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Publicizing that certain things are happening will cement in the public’s mind that they are, thus making them inevitable. Declaring that China and India are slashing emissions is supposed to guilt American lawmakers into passing a regulatory scheme to cut our absolute emissions.

We have been down this road before. Those agitating for major governmental controls to fight global warming have insisted the argument is over. They hoped that declaring the science to be settled would settle the matter in their favor. But the recent scandal at the Hadley Climate Research Unit in England, which revealed the perfidy of several of the world’s most important advocates of that notion, starkly shows that the science is not settled at all. The arguments for global warming regulation rest too heavily on easily manipulated computer models and data that global warming alarmists admit were massaged to fit their biases.

That outrage is the real news about climate change as Copenhagen gets under way, yet the media has largely ignored it. Instead of investigating the scandal, the press has chased a different story—about nations supposedly united to cut emissions—and gotten it wrong to boot. No wonder the newspaper industry is in such dismal shape, and that increasing numbers of people claim to get their information not from traditional media outlets but from blogs or the Daily Show.

Max Schulz

Max Schulz is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.