Climate Change Conference: Why It Matters

 

by MATTHEW DiSTEFANO

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) was held in Paris at the beginning of December, and a comprehensive climate deal was reached. However, major questions still remain including: How effective will this deal be at halting warming trends? What will rich nations do to assist poor nations? But most importantly for us: Why should this conference matter to every single American?

Before I dive into that, some background on COP21: COP21—hosted in Paris—is considered the successor conference to the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which was hosted in Copenhagen. This previous conference ended in almost total failure with poorer nations complaining of a lack of transparency and undemocratic processes. The deal reached by the conference (the Copenhagen Accord) was was also condemned as weak, due to its non-binding nature, and its aim to only hold temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius (which by scientific estimates would still result in the drowning of island nations, significant droughts, and millions—perhaps billions—of innocent individuals dying from starvation due to potential crop failures). As delegates left the conference, John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “The city of Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight, with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport. COP21, therefore, was seen by many as a conference that could not be afflicted by failure, and had to succeed if we had any hope of achieving a limit on carbon emissions and preventing catastrophic climate change.

So far, COP21 seems to be producing promising results, but they are far from complete. One major issue that has consistently been brought up in climate talks is that developing nations argue with industrialized nations regarding how the latter should fund sustainable development in the former. While this has caused the most friction in the past, promising developments have been reached in the form of an alliance between the European Union and 79 African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries. This alliance will see the European Union pay these partner nations over 500 billion dollars to fund sustainable energy development up until 2020. Additionally, the negotiators have fielded documents that will either limit temperature rises to below 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees Celsius, depending on the outcome of the negotiations in the next couple of days. Despite these gains, progress still needs to take place. Some nations are fielding reservations regarding the quantity of funds they receive to boost sustainability, which they think should be larger. Green campaigners, delegates, and concerned global citizens will have their fingers crossed for the outcome, which could prove a turning point in battling climate change. However, one question remains: “Where is America?”

climate 2

(Source: The British Broadcasting Corporation)

The US, so far, has in fact been relatively progressive in climate change talks under President Obama and has in the past pledged billions of dollars to aid developing nations to build up their domestic sustainability programs—which is vital in preventing those nations from continuing to use cheaper sources of energy such as coal, which emit massive quantities of carbon. However, many of the 2016 presidential hopefuls seem to question the purpose of climate policies, or even denounce sustainable projects all together.

Donald Trump believes climate change goes “up and down” saying that “people in the 1920s thought the Earth was cooling, now it’s global warming,” seemingly discounting all climate change scientists. Trump is decidedly wrong because the Earth has been warming continuously, with 2015 breaking records (as every year has) and shaping up to be the hottest recorded year yet. But he is also basing his facts on vague arguments fielded by climate change skeptics that center on a 1970 article discussing “global cooling.” However, the author of the article has himself said that it was never meant to challenge global warming, that the earth is warming, and that climate change deniers should stop using his article as evidence to support their argument. Sadly, even candidates who are considered more mainstream vehemently attack climate change deals proposed by fellow politicians.

climate 3

(Source: The Washington Post)

Marco Rubio has said “Scientists can’t tell us what impact it would have on reversing these changes, but I can tell you with certainty, it would have a devastating impact on our economy.” The issues with Rubio’s comment—despite the fact that he denies blatant scientific evidence (though he is quick to trust heavily edited video evidence when denouncing Planned Parenthood)—is he, self-admittedly, only views climate change through an economic lens.

Many conservatives view climate change in the same, or in a very similar way: that reductions in carbon emissions could have catastrophic economic effects and that we’re not even sure that it would fix climate change. Well, to answer the first claim, a massive redesign of our nation’s electrical system to include green energy would no doubt create thousands of jobs and pump millions, if not billions, into local economies to support this project. This would offset the number of jobs lost in the oil and coal industries, which are already volatile labor employers already. It would also stabilize energy costs and have our economy pegged less to the price of oil. Their claim more likely has something to do with the fact that they—politicians who denounce climate activists from both sides of the aisle—receive millions in campaign contributions from oil giants such as Exon Mobile yearly. Please note that the lobbying money spent by the oil industry for 2015 is approaching 100 million dollars (opensecrets.org; with all data coming directly from the Senate Office of Public Records). Second, the opinion that we’re not sure if carbon reductions would reduce warming is also flawed. Carbon Dioxide is a greenhouse gas, shown by scientists to cause warming trends in the atmosphere. Therefore, if we reduce the volume of Carbon Dioxide released into the atmosphere, we will reduce the rate of global warming. The logic is simple, but it is not about accepting the logic. It is about supporting oil and other fossil fuel interests, promoted by their aggressive lobbying strategies, which ultimately culminates in supporting a dangerous status quo.

 

Climate change is already affecting the world (the Australian city of Perth is now relying almost entirely on purifying salt water to gain freshwater after rainfall reached new record lows) and has already affected parts of the United States (the current drought in California). The refusal to recognize climate change by conservative and some centrist politicians in the United States is an embarrassment to our nation. These individuals also disregard (whether by ignorance or by purposeful neglect) the fact that climate change will affect poor individuals before it affects wealthy ones. A host of individuals, from scientists to progressive politicians to even Pope Francis have campaigned against climate change on the basis that it will hurt the world’s poor. The rich will be able to negotiate it at the beginning, moving inland and affording the increasing prices of food. It is the poor who will get stuck in the floods, hurricanes, and the food shortages. Climate change definitely has the ability to topple the current state of the world, destroying whole populations and ridding individuals of their liberties of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The tone-deaf nature taken by American climate change deniers shows me that they do not uphold the rights fought for by our Founding Fathers as much as they claim they do.