It’s been hard to convince all of America that the world’s climate is changing. Some skepticism still lingers about the science among conservatives and government agencies. But a Pew poll in October indicated that the public now accepts that global climate change is a reality, that it already is having catastrophic consequences and that some sort of action is necessary to counteract humans’ contribution to the problem.
So Americans probably won’t find many surprises in last week’s White House report on global climate change, which was accompanied by flashy online graphics, videos and studies outlining strategies for reducing the substantial ways humans make the problem worse. The biggest challenge America and the rest of the world face is how to take action quickly and uniformly enough to make a difference before it’s too late.
The Obama administration outlined a number of steps it is taking to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions, make cars and buildings more energy efficient, and tighten pollution standards. Those are all laudable steps, especially considering the outsized percentage of global emissions that come from this country.
But it’s nowhere near enough. The United States alone cannot solve a problem that covers the world and requires action by other governments that don’t necessarily share the West’s fervor for urgent action. India and China, with billion-plus populations, are more concerned with creating jobs and maintaining economic growth than worrying about their environmental impact.
Roughly 65 percent of China’s energy consumption comes from coal-fired power plants – a major source of greenhouse-gas pollution. Brazil, host to the world’s largest tropical rain forest, has trouble balancing the world’s demand for curtailed deforestation with its own need for arable land for food self-sufficiency.
When the great industrial nations were spewing vast amounts of carbon, methane and fluorinated gases into the air to build their economies at the height of the industrial age, no one raised concerns about the environmental cost. Now that many developing nations are on the cusp of prosperity, they’re being told to cut back. From their perspective, these demands are unfair. So it’s hardly surprising that they’re balking.
One of the justifications the United States provided during President George W. Bush’s administration not to implement the 1997 Kyoto Protocol was that it would have legally bound this country to meet targeted cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions while giving China, India and the rest of the developing world a pass.
That’s the inconvenient truth. America, even with cooperation from Canada, Europe and Australia, cannot fight global climate change alone. Most Republicans, Democrats and independents in this country now embrace the need for action. The next step is for America to lead so that other polluting countries get the message, too.