2018 didn’t have the best start in nature… The U.S. suffered some freakish cold weather, Cape Town was on the verge of running out of water, and iceberg A-68 broke off from Antarctica (an iceberg twice the size of Luxemburg). And the natural disasters just kept on coming throughout the year. For example, India saw horrific flooding, and the west coast of the U.S. had some of the worst wildfires in recorded history.
The end of a year like this is a good time to think on a couple of words that really bother some people. These aren’t naughty words, or insulting, or provocative, or propaganda – but they are scary words, referring to something out of our control, requiring long-term commitment and a lot of money to merely reduce its effects. These words are ‘climate’ and ‘change’, and there are still people who refuse to acknowledge the possibility that it is happening.
Climate change refers to any permanent alteration in climate, generally regarding the atmosphere warming (global warming) because of increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the air, along with other pollutants produced by burning fossil fuels*. It has been a heavy topic of debate and research since the ’90s, and even in the ’70s, the scientific community had noticed changes in the climate expected to arrive in more than 100 years time were coming much faster than anticipated. The term ‘global warming’ was first put to the public in 1975, in the title of a scientific paper by U.S. scientist Wallace Broecker. However, it wasn’t until 1992 after a drought in North America that climate change hit the headlines.
Long before all of this though, there was a smog crisis in L.A. during World War II. Initially, residents thought the smog was an attack by the Japanese because the air was so bad that, allegedly, it hurt to breathe. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long to realise the attackers were their own cars and factories. L.A. was built for cars – anyone lucky enough to have been there will find it is far too vast and hot for people to walk or cycle far. During the war, there was a massive immigration to the city, creating the largest market for cars the industry had ever faced. However, the threat to human health and agriculture was soon recognised, so in 1947, an Air Pollution Control District was formed – the first of its kind. By the early ’60s, California demanded the first anti-smog controls on cars.
So at this point, the U.S. was one of the first countries to notice the negative impacts of excessive fossil fuel emissions and to bring the concept of untimely climatic change to the public – a pioneer in the field. In 2015, President Obama planned to reinstate this reputation following at least a decade of insufficient effort. He announced the Clean Power Plan (CPP) as “the biggest step [the US had] ever taken to address climate change”, with a goal to cut carbon emissions by a third in 15 years, primarily targeting the coal industry. The CPP also ordered a 30% increase in use of renewable energy sources by 2030, a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from federal agencies by 2025, preparing for the already present impacts of climate change, such as superstorms, droughts, and wildfires, and leading other developed countries to reduce the repercussions of deforestation.
The U.S. was finally showing potential to lead the world in our currently losing battle against climate change. Shortly after this proposal, however, everything changed… In a nutshell, the plan has not come into effect.
In March 2017, President Trump directed a review of the CPP, as his proposed 2018 federal budget did not accommodate for such a plan. Without the environmental regulations laid down by the CPP, the U.S. no longer meets the greenhouse gas emission standards agreed to under the Paris Agreement, hence the nations’ controversial withdrawal from the agreement in June 2017.
This decision, along with President Trump signing his approval of construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline – a huge tube to carry oil from Canada to the south of North America, construction of which was hampered by the previous governmental administration – led to some very bad press for the U.S. in 2017. But what you may not know is that his review of the CPP encouraged a number of states to form the United States Climate Alliance, allowing these states to adhere to the objectives of the CPP within their borders. Also, several states already meet the 2022 carbon dioxide emissions target of the CPP. This is great, but also, it highlights the drastic divide between the attitudes of Americans, and the fact that Donald Trump was even elected as POTUS demonstrates how powerful the opposition can be.
It will be a huge challenge to gain the support of such opposition for the CPP; to “up-end old ways of thinking”, defy tradition, convince entire societies that some jobs are grossly out-dated, that the harm they cause is not worth the nostalgia or patriotism. Major power suppliers may have convinced President Trump and his followers that there are more jobs in the fossil fuel industry than in renewable energy – indeed, the Keystone XL project may provide 28,000 construction jobs – but the CPP would support miners and construction workers throughout the movement, “paving the way for new, job-creating innovations”.
Hopefully one day the CPP will make a comeback, and the U.S. can utilise its News-grabbing tendencies to make the world excited about fighting climate change. If more people of influence draw attention to the matter, instead of brushing it under a carpet of pop-culture, fewer people may deny it’s occurrence, or deny the possibility of reversal, and may even be encouraged to live more environmentally friendly lifestyles.
*Gases such as carbon dioxide and methane (‘greenhouse gases’) in the atmosphere occur naturally, and cause the Earth to warm through the ‘greenhouse effect’. When the Sun’s heating rays enter Earth’s atmosphere, some are absorbed by animals, plants, the ground, air particles, plastics, metals – almost anything! But some are reflected off the surfaces of these things and head back into space. However, the greenhouse gases surrounding Earth only permit some of these rays to re-enter space, while the rest are left to bounce around the atmosphere, keeping things warm at the surface of the planet. The more greenhouse gases are in the atmosphere, the less Sun rays can escape, and the hotter we get. Therefore, greatly increasing the proportions of these greenhouse gases in our atmosphere by burning fossil fuels will in-turn increase global temperatures at an unnatural and dangerous rate.
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