Being in Vietnam makes visible the conflict that we're facing over global warming. Ordinary lifestyles here are very low-energy. Especially outside of Ho Chi Minh City, the primary mode of transport is the scooter, bicycle, or farm animal. Electrification has reached most, but not all, of the country, and few people can afford the panoply of appliances that make American lifestyles so energy intensive. I've flown into two cities at night now, and both times, the surprising fact is how dim they look from the sky.

But making their lives more energy intensive means burning more fossil fuels. Particularly in the early stages of development, it means burning nasty, polluting, carbon-emitting anthracite coal, which Vietnam not only uses for its own electricity, but increasingly exports to China. Vietnam has just about as many people in it as Germany, emitting a fraction of the carbon. Even if Germany cut its emissions in half, or more, it would not make up for Vietnam's industrialization.

I saw a farmer today peddling a cow to market in a trailer attached to his bicycle. This engendered considerable confusion--on my family's farms, the principle has always been that the animals expend energy to move you around, not vice versa. But it also speaks volumes as to just how much more energy the Vietnamese people could stand to consume.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.