In recent months many major countries have put forward pledges to combat climate change. In August, President Obama put forward his Clean Power Plan, which would essentially cut U.S. emissions from 2005 levels 32 percent by 2030. China just pledged $3.1 billion to help developing countries slash their greenhouse gas emissions. And at the U.N. on Sunday, Brazil announced its plan about how much emissions it is willing to cut in coming decades. While in the world of global climate politics this is good progress, it is still not nearly enough.
Scientists at Climate Interactive have analyzed the promises by countries and found that the earth would still heat around 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the century’s end. This is down from the projected 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit the planet would heat if emissions remained on their present course. Even with these cuts, scientists say there would still be catastrophes ranging from food shortages to widespread extinctions of plant and animal life. One of the single biggest factors in many countries preventing a major pledge to combat climate change has been politics.
The debate in the U.S. over how best to combat climate change has been particularly disappointing. For a number of years, many conservative politicians have denied climate change. As public opinion has shifted (a majority of Republican voters now believe climate change exists and is man-made) politicians have altered their talking points and now claim that environmental regulations will kill jobs and that they are an example of governments overreach. But, while the economy must be taken into account while planning these initiatives, at some point it must take a backseat to preventing what would be a global catastrophe.
Enacting environmental regulations and attempting to move towards cleaner and renewable energy sources should not be seen as an attack on people’s jobs or government overreach. This should be viewed as progress that is long overdue in the face of overwhelming evidence that not changing our emission output will cause a global catastrophe. Change always makes people nervous, but we don’t condemn Nikolai Tesla and Thomas Edison for ruining the candle business. And we don’t slander Henry Ford for destroying the horse trade. If we start making the responsible decision to cut emissions it will not be seen as a crime in the future. Unless we enact serious change now, future generations will scorn us for the choices we made.
While some will counter that the U.S. alone will not make a measurable difference, it is evident to many that, as the world’s sole superpower and one of the leaders in carbon dioxide admissions, we need to take a lead in this effort if we truly want to combat this problem. While it is accurate to say that the U.S. alone cannot fix this problem, we need to take the lead to encourage others to take similar steps.
It can be difficult to make these sacrifices when these disasters are 100 years off and the everyday person is more concerned with finding a job than the state of the planet.
Nevertheless, it is imperative that we collectively look at the big picture. We can’t look at this problem and ask, “How does this benefit me?” We have to think of future generations, of our children and our children’s children, and realize that it is our responsibility to take action now while there is still a chance to manage it. Regardless, there is no reason why we shouldn’t want to lower our carbon emissions and seek renewable energy sources.
Issues such as the Keystone XL pipeline and Clean Power Plan continue to divide Congress along primarily partisan lines. Unless the U.S. commits to drastic changes in carbon emissions and other environmental areas, other countries will only make moderate efforts to combat climate change. By presenting a united front, our government could make a meaningful impact on generations to come. The consequences could be catastrophic if the skeptics prevail.
Jacob Kowalski is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.