The overall cause of global warming is the Greenhouse Effect, which is the trapping of the sun's warmth in a planet's lower atmosphere due to the concentration of gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. The Greenhouse Effect is caused by the process of burning fossil fuels, which has spiked since the Industrial Revolution resulting in a 70% increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 1970-2004. The dilemma is that energy is crucial for progress and innovation in the economy, especially in the more technologically advanced countries like the United States. As a society, we should take a balanced approach and support economic development while protecting the environment, which requires that we consider scientific research, the differing points of view and current and future policies that could positively affect climate change.
NASA, the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), and the EPA offer valuable information about the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the United States and how the world is affected by climate change. Studies show that over 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming trends are extremely likely due to human activities. NASA research has identified the following significant impacts from climate change around the world: sea level rise, global temperature rise, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, and ocean acidification.
The evidence is clear that, climate change is having serious negative effects on the wellbeing of nations. Rising sea levels are causing entire islands to sink, air pollution in China, and deforestation in Indonesia.
Five Solomon Islands, located in the Pacific 1,000 miles from Australia, are submerged under water. The Solomon Islands have a population of 640,000. These and many other islands are at risk in the future, including the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of Maldives, the Republic of Fiji, the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia. Millions of lives are affected as these nations are forced to prepare for mass migration, as rising sea levels and increase of weather severity will destroy their economies, infrastructure, and overall livelihood.
Air Pollution in China
China, the industrial factory capitol of the world, surrounds 3/8ths of its population with unhealthy air to breathe. Air pollution is estimated to contribute to the deaths of 1.6 million people in China every year. This air pollution causes a myriad of health problems for its citizens including asthma, strokes, lung cancer, and heart attacks. These conditions force many people to wear masks daily to protect their lungs. This is a complete violation of human rights and has been the source of many recent protests advocating better living conditions.
Deforestation in Indonesia
Palm oil is the most common vegetable oil in the world, and it is found in the vast tropical forests in Indonesia. Deforestation and forest fires are destroying Indonesia's ecosystems, and cause severe health issues and significant economic losses. Every year, more than 100,000 deaths in Southeast Asia are attributed to landscape fires. Palm oil growers have been accused of abusing human rights and seizing land from locals. This makes Indonesia one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases.
Climate change is not only affecting places around the world today, but with time, it will create more disasters that could completely change the planet as we know it. Potential future realities are the spread of disease, mass migration, conflict over resources, decrease in food supply, and economic repercussions.
Rising temperatures will give way to new weather patterns by altering rainfall patterns and lengthening summers. The longer, hotter seasons can contribute to disease spread and can damage the biosphere through extended droughts. This will grant mosquitoes a longer breeding season and and more time to spread disease. Dry areas around the world have doubled since the 1970's. As more land becomes dry, this will reduce agricultural productivity.
Rising sea levels will ultimately impact coastal regions around the world, forcing many to leave their homes and migrate. It is possible for the sea level to rise 1-4 feet. This would force 200 million people in Asia and 13 million people in Europe. to move. Mass migration could lead to enormous international conflict. The estimated 3 billion people living in poverty today will be hit the hardest and must find ways to compete for resources through migration. In 2014, the Department of Defense declared the threat of climate change as a matter of national security.
A Global Call for Change
There have been international climate change talks in the past, such as the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and Copenhagen in 2009, but none have been truly effective until the Paris Agreement in October 2016. This agreement, within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was signed by an astounding 196 countries puts climate change at the forefront of global issues. It’s aim is to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius and aim for 1.5. This is a major progression forward as many countries are already implementing new policies. Although the agreement binds countries to report their progress towards lowering emissions, it relies heavily on the countries that emit the most, such as China and the United States who combined to accounted for 44% of global emissions in 2011, to independently decide how to lower emissions. Making change within our policies and the habitual reliance on unclean energy in American society is critical to making the Paris Agreement effective.
The Right Direction
During the Obama administration, the President and the EPA jointly worked to make significant steps to cut GHG emissions and battle politicians who fought against climate change policy, but the country still has a long way to go. In 2015, Obama utilized an executive order to require federal agencies to reduce emissions by 40% and increase electricity generation from renewable energy by 30% from 2008 levels by 2025. He also worked with the EPA and Department of Transportation to reduce emissions for medium and heavy-duty vehicles by one billion metric tons by 2025. The EPA has also worked with the private sector through voluntary energy and climate programs and reduced over 345 million metric tons of GHG in 2010. During his presidency, Obama has initiated many plans of progress but none are as critical as his Clean Power Plan, which intends to cut emissions from the power sector, which is the largest source of carbon pollution in the country, by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. This plan has many aspects to it, but receives much criticism from the Republican party, which displays the divide in American politics on climate change. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, after learning about the plan, without showing an understanding of the problem of climate change compulsively attacked Obama, “Today’s announcement is a dagger in the heart of the American middle class, and to representative Democracy itself”. In order to bring the country together to fulfill its duty laid out by the Paris Agreement, politicians must close the gap on the issue, acknowledge anthropogenic climate change, and agree to find a balance on new policies to regulate emissions.
Fossil Fuel Industry and Climate Denial
One of the main reasons for this divide is lobbying by interest groups and the fossil fuel industry. The relationship between politicians and the fossil fuel industry makes the creation of climate change policy in the United States very difficult. The way in which this unfolds is through fossil fuel subsidies, which are any government action that benefits the industry such as lowering the cost of energy production. During the 113th Congress, big oil, gas, and coal companies spent $350 million on politics and received $41.8 billion in federal production and exploration subsidies. This takes away investment dollars in alternative energy sources like wind and solar. These companies fuel climate change denial in the news media and among politicians. Many interest groups such as Americans for Prosperity, American Legislative Exchange Council, Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University, Cato Institute, Competitive Enterprise institute, Heartland Institute, Heritage Foundation, Institute for Energy Research, and Manhattan Institute for Policy Research have all received money from ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, one of the largest oil companies, to deny the credibility of global warming and influence the government. Along with these groups, the news media has created an echo chamber for climate denial, which sways public opinion and steers the conversation away from the issue. The country is allowing the fossil fuel companies to grow, when they should be limited in order to remain below the 2 degrees Celsius mark created by the Paris Agreement. American citizens must become more educated about climate change so that they can expose climate deniers help and make climate change a topic of discussion.
An Outright Denier
Although the Obama administration took large steps forward on climate change, that progress could be erased by the next president, Donald Trump. Throughout his campaign and before, he continually has denied climate change, calling it a hoax “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." Trump’s energy plan is composed of expanding production of oil and gas, allowing the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, removing the Clean Power Plan, and walking away from the Paris Agreement. He simply does not care at all about the environment. Trump has suggested in the past that he may just abolish the EPA, but in the interim he has appointed Myron Ebell, one of climate change’s strongest opponents, to run it. Ebell heads the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Cooler Heads Coalition, which questions global warming and opposes energy rationing policies. Ebell plans to increase energy production. David Goldston, a policy analyst at Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, said Ebell “doesn’t believe in climate change and wants to reverse the advances we’ve had in environmental protection and decimate--if not utterly destroy--the EPA." If the world is going to come close to bearing a fight against climate change, it needs the United States to participate and be at the forefront of the discussion.