The Climate is Changing, The Politics Are Not
Too often in our country, the severity and magnitude of the climate change crisis is lost in the fracas of political partisanship, preventing desperately needed policy from being formulated and implemented. The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s hearing on September 17, entitled “The Administration’s Climate Plan: Failure By Design”, is evidence of this. Obliged to speak on the discordant nature of the conversations on climate change at the hearing, Rep. Bill Posey(R-FL) stated: “There’s a lot of venom flowing on both sides of this issue, which I am afraid hinders more direct discussion of the facts.”
When the U.N. Climate Summit took place last Monday, there was hope that the international setting would provide leaders with the opportunity to leverage the collective discussion toward establishing definitive goals and adhering to binding agreements. It was thought that when confronted by representatives of countries critically impacted by rising sea levels and erratic weather patterns, leaders would be quick to recognize the value in substantively working towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and supporting especially vulnerable nations. Unfortunately, this scenario has never played out – and time and time again, developed nations, faced with little to no incentive to combat the trends endangering our future, have turned a blind eye to the facts and left critically affected nations to languish.
These repeat refusals to acknowledge the facts have proven that a state centered approach to looking at the issue of climate change is ineffective, as these countries often have real incentives to ignore the crisis. This primarily stems from the fact that political leaders believe that by restraining carbon emissions, they will thereby restrain economic growth and preside over suffering economies while their enemies prosper. Such arguments have been popular – American leaders like Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), have made arguments against implementing the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal for carbon cutting regulation by citing the fact that China’s high pollution levels will offset whatever progress the U.S. makes.
The inability to enforce legally binding international treaties similarly impedes accountability. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol is a prime example of the lack of consistency on an issue that inherently affects every global player, and would benefit largely from concerted action. The U.S. has never ratified the Protocol, and Canada withdrew from it in 2011.
The scale with which countries face direct and immediate threats from climate change is another way in which the lack of incentive is manifested. Developing countries, a subset of countries specifically excluded from the Kyoto Protocol’s directive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, can not realistically experience the same degree of growth industrialized countries have had the opportunity to if their access to carbon emitting production was to be limited. For nations like the U.S., whose economic livelihood is not literally underwater, as many others are, it becomes simpler to look more closely at affected areas. Developing nations and those critically impacted, ultimately, are forced to look to other solutions.
Real progress will not be made until sustainability, accountability, and vulnerability are factored into every collective policy decision. This will only occur when the dangers posed by climate change and its subsequent effects on economies and governments around the world become apparent to all.
- Sabine Teyssier