Not Quite a Global Effort
by: Ian Richardson
Junior, Political Science and Psychology
Environmentalism is a term tossed around so casually that sometimes we begin to forget about its importance in the modern political landscape. Contrary to popular belief, it encompasses much more than hugging trees and recycling. Broadly speaking, environmentalism is all the actions both personal and public to reduce humanity’s carbon footprint and preserve the earth. With the rise of global warming awareness, both the public and government alike are working to find green solutions to the environmental problems facing us today.
At the forefront of the environmentalism debate is the effects of fossil fuels and CO2 gas emissions on the atmosphere, specifically on the global temperature. Scientists at the National Ice Conservatory have conducted research to track temperatures over a 4,000 year period. Their research suggests that the Earth is currently at its warmest level with no sign of slowly down in the coming decades. Not surprisingly, this increase in temperature correlates with the rise of industrialism.
Though the science surrounding global warming can be fuzzy and controversial, the predicted damage wrought by a warmer global climate could greatly change our world. While higher sea levels and smaller glaciers do not sound particularly upsetting, when placed in the context of increased famine, disease, and war, global warming begins to show its teeth. Furthermore, climate change could disrupt biodiversity and harm some of the magnificent aspects of our world. In short, if we play our cards wrong, humanity stands to face some sizeable consequences.
The questions thus remains; what do we do and how much should we do it? CO2 gases account for nearly 80% of America’s Greenhouse emissions, which scientists theorize are damaging the atmosphere the most. America has taken heed and begun efforts to reduce their CO2 emissions. The main culprit is coal, which accounts for roughly half of all electricity produced in the country. According to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, American CO2 emissions has dropped 13% since 2007, nearly a 5.25 billion ton reduction in emissions. No small feat for a massive industrialized superpower. Much of the reduction is connected with the costly switch to natural gas fuels as opposed to the cheaper coal. With the emergence of nuclear power and natural gas reserves, America could follow in the footsteps of countries like France, who can power nearly their entire infrastructure with nuclear energy.
However, American policy ends with our borders. No matter how Congress and the President choose to handle Greenhouse gases and CO2 regulation, there is no way to implement these standards universally across the globe. In turn, America takes on a greater burden of the environmental problem while other countries get to reap the benefits as they freely ride the American green wave. The data show clear support for this as well. Over the same time span since 2007, global CO2 emissions have only increased, rising 3.2%, which equals an additional 32 million tons of CO2 entering the atmosphere. With the atmosphere only able to absorb another trillion tons of CO2, the global lack of effort is disconcerting. The United States is rightfully perturbed.
The problem is quite easy to identify, yet nearly impossible to solve. Environmentalism is expensive, and people don’t feel like paying extra because of what a scientist in Norway finds in glacier composition. Small developing countries will naturally defer to cheaper alternatives in their slow march into the industrialized world. To these countries, fossil fuels are a no brainer. They are far more concerned with growing their industrial sectors and escaping poverty than keeping tabs on their Chloral Floral Carbon count.
However, small countries are not the only ones releasing massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Both China and the EU emit gigantic quantities of carbon into the atmosphere. Particularly in the EU, the move to natural gas and fracking is painfully slow and rather expensive. Countries like Great Britain noticed the little quandary they were getting into and realized that importing American coal was both cheap and easy. According to the National Geographic, Great Britain saw a 70% increase in coal imports from America in 2012, while the continent as a whole leapt to become the largest overall importer of American coal. This trend is not isolated to Europe either; Asia saw large increases in consumption of American coal as well, with China’s imports increasing by almost double.
It is difficult to predict the development of future technology. Within fifty years, coal and CO2 emissions could be things of the past, thus rendering much of the current debate obsolete. With the knowledge we have today, politicians and the public alike have to make decisions about the future of the green movement in our culture. The politics of greenhouse gas reduction prove even murkier than the business of environmentalism. While liberal policy makers see global warming and Greenhouse gases as a social ill in need of an immediate solution, conservative politicians would rather wait for the solution to present themselves in a cost-effective way that does not over tax America. Either way, without a global effort toward CO2 reduction, America is placed in the unfortunate position of leading a losing fight with no one following behind.
This article’s pictures can be found at: http://mobile.nationaljournal.com/columns/political-connections/house-gop-in-lockstep-against-epa-20111006 and http://www.wnyc.org/shows/bl/2013/feb/22/al-gore-future/.