No More Excuses

We have run out of excuses to not act on climate change. While the Obama administration has set the crucial foundation for action, Congress frustratingly continues to impede initiatives at the behest of affluent coal and oil companies donating to their campaigns. These corporations more than doubled their contributions since the late 90s and contributed approximately $36 million to Republicans during the 2014 election cycle ($5.4 million to Democrats). This might be the worst outcome of Citizens United: allowing oil and gas CEOs to dictate the perceived imperativeness of climate change legislation while the world at large is clearly suffering from its effects. History will look back at this as one of the most embarrassing periods of political inaction.

Indeed the global tide has been shifting, with the US only starting to emerge as a leader on climate change action, especially with the recent breakthrough deal the Obama Administration made with China. China is perhaps the most pivotal international player, and has now revealed plans for its first carbon market to mitigate the disastrous effects of its decades long-pollution; in this case, the effects of industrial pollution, in the form of smog, which isn't caused by carbon emissions, but rather pollutants like sulfur dioxide. However, China has visibly suffered from the direct effects of climate change as well; their 2007 "Sea Level Monitoring Report" by their State Oceanic Administration found that the average sea-level had already risen by more than 90 mm over the previous 30 years, posing major threats to low elevation cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. Recognizing the clear and immediate threats, the Chinese government reached the aforementioned accord with the US. The old argument that pushing for climate change action is futile due to China's inaction or inattention (which is already a painfully disingenuous argument to begin with) is effectively null and void, putting more of the spotlight on Congress to step up.

But the old habits remain, with the Republicans at the forefront of impeding a concrete and sustained climate change plan. One might mention the recent Senate resolution on climate change which stated, with a whopping vote of 98-1, that "Climate Change is Real and Not a Hoax". Following that vote, an amendment by Sen. Brian Schatz (D. HI) that noted the role humans have in "significantly contribute" to global warming failed by a vote of 50-49 (needing 60 to pass), despite the constant and overwhelming worldwide consensus that humans cause it-we may very well be the last developed nation to take a concrete stance on this immediate and pressing issue. Technically the Senate's recognition, and the slim majority that acknowledges humanity's role is progress, but it remains frustrating how long it took them to acknowledge basic facts, and how much longer they will continue to impede carbon mitigation efforts for the sake of their corporate backers.

There really doesn't seem to be much else pushing them to make this argument, except perhaps a misguided view that switching to greener energy sources could somehow hurt our economic growth; in fact, it has been found repeatedly that renewable utilities provide major boosts to our economy; the solar industry now, for example, employs twice as many workers as the coal industry in the US. Leading Republicans either deny climate change is happening, that humans have a role in it, or that there is an effective solution to it without "damaging" our economy." The consistent refusal and denial is what is truly hurting the US economy and livelihood. California, for example, is now experiencing its worst drought in approximately 1200 years. Despite what these lawmakers argue, the solutions are obvious, which the Obama administration is actively pursuing and leading Democrats (and some pragmatic Republicans) are advocating. One is to have individual states invest in the renewable utilities best suited to their terrain, like wind power in Texas and the Great Plains and solar energy in the Southwest. The other is to implement a carbon market or carbon tax to encourage energy companies to either invest in cleaner utilities or cut their emissions.

The first proposal has proven time and time again to act as a sort of "green stimulus" for states' economies-California has consistently proven itself as an outshining example of this, increasingly employing tens of thousands of workers in green energy and transportation construction and maintenance. Yet that second proposal remains a "theoretical" point of contention for climate change apologists (at least some more politicians are starting to acknowledge climate change so hopefully actual "deniers" are dwindling), as their anti-tax dogma wouldn't allow a consideration of one of the most practical and effective means to combat climate change, which could also help with closing the deficit. Obviously its not just the corporate backing that impedes imperative action-it's also in the inherent dogma of the current Republican base that believes any increase of tax or cost will hurt the economy. But nothing in politics or policy is by any means static-it is imperative that moderate Republicans both within the party and the electorate recognize the minimum facts about global warming and urge a shift in the party's stance. The science keeps surmounting the fact that the longer we do not change our energy consumption and pollution habits, the harder it will be to reverse, or even adapt to, the disastrous effects.

Acting immediately on climate change is nothing but in our best interest, both in its practicality and its symbolic value worldwide. Besides already being an economic and technological leader worldwide, we could easily lead the charge against global warming. True, climate change is a global phenomenon that requires a global response-though China is increasingly on board, other large emitters are reluctant, such as India, which recently refused to settle on a target for emissions reductions before a Paris UN climate summit in December later this year. The response to this should never be "they're not doing anything, so neither should we." Rather, the US, China, and other nations already acting, or starting to act, on climate change need to surmount the diplomatic pressure on countries that are procrastinating their efforts, both with dialogue and leading by example. Obviously this is an ideal scenario, but with the recent trajectory of climate change negotiations and action, it becomes all the more likely, pending Congress and the next administration stepping up to the task. No matter what the case or political atmosphere, let us at least strive for that ideal.