Reluctance to join fight hurts planet

The world’s scientists are in agreement about global climate change – and the time to take action is now.

Chelsey Perkins

On this day 10 years ago, more than 150 countries agreed at a global warming conference in Kyoto, Japan, to control the Earth’s greenhouse gases. Since then, 174 countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, one country (Kazakhstan) has signed it but has not yet ratified the agreement, 19 countries have not expressed a position on the protocol and one country has stated it does not intend to ratify the agreement: the United States.

Of course, it is not all that surprising that the world’s biggest energy consumer would prefer not to commit to reducing emissions, because, as we are told, doing so would have detrimental effects on the U.S. economy. In a capitalist society, the bottom line is the last word.

Yesterday, former Vice President Al Gore accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in raising awareness of climate change issues. The Associated Press reported that during his acceptance speech, Gore urged the United States and China, the second biggest energy consumer, to take serious action in the fight against global warming. “We must quickly mobilize our civilization with the urgency and resolve that has previously been seen only when nations mobilized for war,” Gore said.

The analogy of war to global climate change certainly evokes some interesting images as one imagines the future state of the world, most of which probably originate in some dystopian future movie. But is it that far of a stretch?

There are innumerable reasons why countries go to war, and in no way could I synthesize the reasoning behind every war in human history into a 15-inch column. But, as demonstrated by the wars we currently face, it could safely be said that security stands as a relatively constant reason for waging war.

If security is a motivating factor for war, why isn’t the security of our planet a motivating enough factor for waging war on carbon emissions? Just as the hypothetical harms on the U.S. economy stand in the way of a meaningful effort to reduce carbon emissions, shouldn’t the hypothetical harms of allowing our planet to become uninhabitable for humankind be considered as well?

As Gore points out in his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” the consensus among scientists is clear: Humans are causing global warming, this is not part of a regular warming trend and we have to act now if we hope to stop the warming from causing cataclysmic events that will disproportionately affect the world’s poor. It is only in the popular press where so much skepticism of those scientific hypotheses is demonstrated, in the sometimes obsessive drive to include “the other side” of a debate, when there really isn’t another side in this instance.

As we look forward to next year’s presidential election, I believe it is extremely important for the candidates to demonstrate their commitment to helping our country become part of the solution, rather than remaining a colossal part of the problem. Or as Gore puts it: “Will those responsible for decisions in the field of climate change at the global level listen to the voice of science and knowledge, which is now loud and clear?”

Chelsey Perkins welcomes comments at [email protected]