By Kat Alikhan
I’m not participating in the argument anymore—you know, the argument about whether climate change is real or, if it exists, whether climate change is man-made or exacerbated by humanity, or whether it’s something with which we need concern ourselves at all. I’m not going to stand by quietly when someone makes a lame comment that because it is snowing on a winter’s day, the notion of global warming is a hoax—that it is simply a liberal construct designed to impose more federal government into our lives to take away our jobs and our freedom. Yes, I know that the earth has experienced cycles of extreme heat and cold over the eons long before humans populated the planet. But as humans we have to accept responsibility for accelerating the current crisis due to the spewing of CO 2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by our exorbitant use of fossil fuels.
Republican leaders, including aspiring presidential candidates, show no leadership on the issue. When asked about climate change recently, Rick Santorum replied that “We should leave science to the scientists.” What a lazy and cowardly response—a response designed to placate and pander to his anti-government constituency. I’m no scientist, which is why I rely on the consensus of scientists worldwide that oceans are warming, the Arctic ice is melting and sea levels are rising, portending disaster if the world does not step up to the challenge.
Who will be affected most by extreme weather events brought about by the warming of the earth? “…the changing of the climate will have grave implications for poor communities who lack the resources to adapt or protect themselves from natural disasters,” said Pope Francis. What was Jeb Bush’s response to Pope Francis’ concern? “I don’t get my economic policy advice from religious leaders.” That’s a telling response—one that frames the issue as a financial problem, and not a moral one—that reveals a lack of imagination, an empathic worldview and concern for global stewardship. We are an industrious and creative people. Surely jobs lost by the elimination of fossil fuel production (coal mining, fracking, etc.) can be made up by the transition to jobs supporting renewable energy initiatives such as solar and wind. Denmark is weaning itself off of fossil fuels, and has set a goal for 100 percent renewable energy usage by 2050. Already 40 percent of their electrical power is provided through wind sources. (Yes, Denmark is a small and particularly windy country, but maybe we can learn some things from them).
For a country that prides itself on its exceptionalism, we are pathetically behind the curve on this issue compared to other developed countries. One of the more notable attempts to cut green house emissions was the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which would have set in place requirements to reduce the pollutants worldwide by five percent. Then Vice-President Al Gore agreed to the protocol on behalf of the United States, but the U.S. Congress failed to ratify it. (Some things never seem to change.)
This December in Paris representatives of the governments of more than 190 nations, including the U.S., will meet to hammer out a global agreement with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, chiefly CO 2, caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Expect Republican leaders to continue their denial of climate change, and to do their best to sabotage and defeat any agreement or progress made there.
President Obama said, “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.” There’s still time, but not much. Ted Cruz presents climate change and federal efforts to address the issue as “…massive government control of the economy, the energy sector and every aspect of our lives.” Until the climate in Congress changes, Cruz’ sentiment may prevail.
But if federal intervention in climate change is to be obstructed, there may be hope at the local level. In an article in the current “Foreign Affairs” magazine, Michael Bloomberg argues that municipalities are the key to fighting climate change, as cities—many of which are built on coastal lands—account for about 70 percent of total worldwide greenhouse gas emissions and are most likely to experience the adverse effects of rising sea levels. Change at the municipal level, such as modernizing transportation systems, can be made more easily at the local level than at the federal level and may have a tremendous effect toward deceleration of climate change.
That is a hopeful scenario, and I can use some hope right about now.