There are a number of serious threats facing the world today, but few are more serious than the problem of global warming, climate change, and environmental degradation. We desperately need our leaders to do something to slow down this negative process. President Barack Obama campaigned for his office saying he would be one of the greenest presidents in history and would work hard to create the green economy and green jobs of tomorrow. But now, almost a year since his election, little has changed. There is still no successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol and the United States isn’t doing very much to combat climate change. The government needs to take a number of drastic steps in the coming years in order to reduce our dependence on hydrocarbons, plus change the culture of America to make it generally more green. Only then will we turn back the clock on our environmental problems. The science
The world’s climate is changing and the consequences are far reaching. When examining this important issue we must be sure to have our facts straight. Even before looking at the consequences and possible solutions, it is necessary to determine what is causing this phenomenon. Some people say climate change is part of a natural process which happens every few centuries and which caused the ice age and other periods in Earth’s history in which the temperature was different. This might be true. Much of the science is still somewhat uncertain. But many scientists believe that human beings cause global warming (Coren). They say it is caused by the huge amount of cars we drive on our roads and by our coal plants and our thousands of factories. These people say we have simply not been good stewards of the Earth and are now responsible for the fact that the surface of the planet seems to be warming because of trapped gases. Our fossil fuel use is the main reason those gases are present. Every time we drive a car to school or work, use electricity, or heat our houses, we are releasing carbon dioxide into the air and making our planet hotter. Another important source of greenhouse gases is caused by deforestation, mainly in the Amazon. There is a lot of money to be made in cutting down trees and planting land for animals to use so the animals can be made into hamburgers at the end of the day. Cattle itself is said by some people to be in part responsible for increasing the amount of methane in the atmosphere (Flannery, 201). So much of what we do to stay alive and to make money appears to be hurting our planet, according to scientists who are increasingly vocal about this important issue.
As the concentration of gases grows in the atmosphere, more heat is trapped and less escapes back into outer space. Some scientists have stated on the record that this increase in trapped heat changes may be responsible for a change in the climate, not only making the surface of the Earth hotter, but altering weather patterns. The patterns and even currents we have known for centuries are changing and changing our patterns of trade and they we lead our lives. There will be more monsoons and hurricanes as seen by the terrible storms of recent years including Hurricane Katrina. With rising water levels and more storms coastal countries will be powerfully affected by climate change. Countries like the Maldives, which already are barely above the water level may vanish entirely, becoming a new lost city of Atlantis. Other countries such as Bangladesh, which is frequently pummelled by bad weather and monsoons and floods will likely suffer even more.
The truth is that poor, developing countries are going to be hardest hit in part because they will not have the resources to protect themselves or launch the emergency operations that will be required when disaster strikes. Drought and desertification is likely to happen in countries such as Sudan and Tanzania, according to climate scientists (Flannery, 56). Some people say that a recent drought in Ethiopia is an early indication of the kind of trouble poorer countries will increasingly feel as our climate changes.
Policies to tackle climate change
So what is to be done about this serious problem? We need governments around the world to develop policies that when implemented will slow down or stop climate change. The best policy for all of this comes in two complementary forms. The first requires us to reduce our dependence on oil. The second involves a cap and trade system to reduce emissions from harming our atmosphere. I will begin by explaining the first aspect of this policy. Americans consume huge quantities of gasoline and oil every year. They drive big cars and they consume many products that are made with petroleum products. In normal times none of this would be a problem. But with so much evidence suggesting that carbon dioxide from the burning of carbon fuels is causing the temperature of the globe to rise dramatically, something must be done. Already we can see this policy moving forward. Car companies are producing more and more fuel-efficient vehicles and many say an electric car is right around the corner.
Another positive aspect is that with the Great Recession in the last few years, one of America’s largest car companies, General Motors, was largely taken over by the government. Hopefully that will mean that they will have more say in what kind of products the company makes and that they will push green technology. The government plainly needs to invest much more in this kind of thing if it hopes to stave off of the worst of climate change. It is very nice to hear that although electric cars are not yet available, many international car companies are heavily promoting what they call green cars.
These companies are developing fully electric vehicles of their own, but for the moment, are emphasizing other technologies. Audi is pushing clean diesel engines, and Toyota is working on a hydrogen-based fuel cell technology that would obviate the need for heavy batteries. Other companies argue that public fascination with electric cars can be made profitable — soon.
If these promises can be realized and American consumers invest not only in their own convenience but also in the future of their country and its environment, with the help of government policy towards such green car companies—such as tax credits—things can be much better environmentally for tomorrow’s generation than for today’s.
However, investment in new technology such as cars is not enough to turn back the tide on climate change. The government must also put in place a massive cap and trade system to help reduce pollution into the atmosphere. With a system like this pollution will be treated as units and each company—depending on its size—will have a certain amount of credits. If it doesn’t use them all it can sell them to other companies who need to pollute more. It will essentially create a market in pollution credits with a certain ceiling that represents the maximum amount everyone altogether can pollute.
This sounds like a promising policy and is in fact in a bill that if presently before Congress. It won’t be the easiest bill in the world to pass, but as people begin to realize the huge potential costs of climate change in their own lives and the lives of their children they will certainly contact their representatives in Washington and ask them to vote for the bill in its present form. Indeed, earlier this year the bill passed the House of Representatives:
“It has been an incredible six months, to go from a point where no one believed we could pass this legislation to a point now where we can begin to say that we are going to send president Obama to Copenhagen in December as the leader of the of the world on climate change,” said Markey, referring to world climate talks scheduled this winter.
That bill has been dramatically rewritten in recent weeks, but a climate bill still will be going through the Senate soon. It will prove transformational to the American economy and to the climate that we all share.
When it comes to an international regime to deal with climate change things are more tricky. Many countries met in Copenhagen in December in order to discuss a successor agreement to Kyoto, but not much has changed in the way they are thinking. Many countries, including the U.S., Japan, China, and Canada did not follow Kyoto, and do not want to see another unequal policy be passed. Not every country pollutes the same amount, so is it really fair that every country should be forced to reduce their emissions by the same amount?
Another big issue is that India and China have economies that are rapidly growing as is their share of global emissions. They are very reticent about a global climate change regime because they know it will disproportionately affect their economies. Developing countries argue they should have lower standards (Cohan, 89). After all, when Britain and the U.S. were industrializing, there were no standards whatsoever. Why should developing countries today be shackled?
Reaching a consensus is always difficult, and with so many interests at stake—especially economic ones—it was not surprising that not much was accomplished in Copenhagen.
For the last two years the world economy has been on the brink of disaster. Many have said that the whole financial system will collapse due to the huge problems revealed by the credit crunch and the failure of banks around the world. In the face of these problems each country has had to find economic policies to try to stave off a serious depression. Many economists believe the crisis began because of a big asset boom in the United States. Banks and other lenders gave away many loans at very low interest rates to people who simply who could not afford to pay back the money. In the beginning this led to a huge boom in housing prices because there were so many buyers in the housing market and there was a high demand and a somewhat low supply. However, eventually what happened was that people began to default on their mortgage payments. During the boom years many complicated financial products involving mortgages were bought and sold by banks and it was difficult to know how many of these "toxic mortgages" were actually on a bank's balance sheet. All of these problems have led to policymakers taking “their eye off the ball” when it comes to climate change. This is witnessed in some respect when we look at the problems Obama’s climate change bill is facing. However, politically there are big problems for Obama and the Democrats on this bill.
The bill’s future is clouded partly because health care consumes virtually all Barack Obama’s political capital, and partly because Republicans, whatever the polls may say, think cap-and-trade is a political loser for Democrats. When public attention swings to the issue, they can paint it as a stealth tax on energy—and during a recession at that. Republicans who were formerly committed to climate legislation include John McCain, last year’s presidential nominee, as well as Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Richard Lugar of Indiana, a centrist and internationalist who appreciates the importance of climate change to global opinion. All have disengaged from the negotiations.
Things are now so politically toxic in Washington due to the Healthcare debate that this part of the environmental policy will have a great deal of trouble getting passed. Many conservative activists have set their targets on the idea and are claiming that it raises energy taxes on ordinary Americans.
The world is changing. Our climate is changing. We need to take action now and work together to stop this. We need policies in place that will reshape our world. But it is going to be a difficult process. Nothing important ever came easily. It is not surprising that none of these policies are yet in place and that they have run into some hard roadblocks here and there. Part of the issue is that such environmental policies take time to gain influence in the culture, and part of the issue is that there are a lot of entrenched interests who want to see these policies fail. We need leaders who can stand up for what they believe in and take on the big companies: we need a green revolution and we need it now.