Watching the Climate Crisis Show in the Capital of the U.S.A.
As an American citizen who had lived abroad for the majority of my life, my exposure to American politics and democracy were partial and often dramatized by news channels and Hollywood. I have had the privilege to live in Europe and have access to private and international schooling in which the importance of sustainability, global warming and biodiversity conservation has always been a topic of conversation. A conversation that was not political or polarized. Involved in an indirect way or at a distance, my concern for American climate diplomacy stemmed from my idealized appreciation of a country I knew little about. From sacred indigenous lands to the Grand Canyon and Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano, I was entranced in the natural wonders of the country I belonged to but had never lived in. My European perspective on how the United States government manages, mitigates and controls climate change related issues may seem critical and even defamatory but much progress does need to be made.
For many years the United States was the global climate leader by financing climate initiatives across the globe and being actively involved in international climate agreements and negotiations. Through the years and many different administrations, the US approach to climate change has had both merits and shortcomings.
In the Obama administration, significant steps were taken to invest in sustainable initiatives and finance the renewable energy revolution. The climate financing around the world helped the US maintain a climate leadership position and participating and cooperating in negotiations in Paris for COP 21 helped strengthen the US stance on climate change.
The following, and current (ending) Trump administration polar opposite approach has completely denied the pressing and global threat that environmental issues and climate change pose. Trump’s pulling out of the Paris Agreement was followed by a sub-state and individual initiative “I’m still in” social media movement that showed American people’s involvement in the climate issue regardless of federal and national disengagement. Trump’s blatant denying of the science and research that proves climate change is real and man-made has validated climate change deniers across the world and has given an excuse for the US to continue to emit some 23% of global emissions.
The less grave yet still dangerous attitude is the claiming that climate scientists and the climate movement exaggerates the speed at which the planet is deteriorating. This approach also makes the US conveniently avoid responsibility by focusing on developing countries’ fast-growing emissions like burning coal in China do to a rapidly increasing energy demand in areas of poverty or off-the-grid regions. Even though US CO2 emissions have been flatlining or slowing decreasing, placing the focus and responsibility on developing countries fails to involve the US in this global issue and weakens international views of the US. It falls into the dangerous cycle of blaming LEDC’s for doing exactly what MEDC’s do — only later or at a slower rate.
The gravest shortcoming of the US’s approach to dealing with the climate change issue has been the pulling out of the Paris Agreement. US non-cooperation in these deals poses a threat to US emissions and means that the US will not meet its NDC goals. Furthermore, the US’s pulling out of deals undermines increasingly ambitious emission reduction targets globally. Because of this, it may be that countries will not meet the competitive norms and expectations of ratcheting up their NDC’s overtime without US participation. Trumps prioritizing of American jobs, infrastructure, international competition, and immigration has curbed the government’s enforcement on climate issues, regulations and overall not addressed climate change enough. I stand by non-partisan climate prioritization.
In Ex-President Bush’s administration climate policy harnessed the power of technological novation and focused on maintaining economic growth, and global participation. As a member of the UNFCCC, the US shared the same objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations to a level that does not cause a threat to the global climate system. Under this, the Bush Administration emphasized cost-effective steps to be taken in such direction. Though less financially invested than the Obama administration, the Bush administration did not deny the presence of climate change and wanted to advance climate change science and research — unlike the Trump administration.
Throughout these multiple administrations, it can be inferred that the US has had a very volatile, elusive and inconsistent approach to climate policy depending on the current administration. It is however crucial that the next administration emphasizes the presence, policy, financing, and importance of climate change. The cost of mitigation will be less considerable than that of adaptation, therefore, it is more needed now rather than once the irreparable damage on the climate and environment has already happen.
A significant difference to notice and one I have long struggled with relates to the different levels of sustainability as well as the different degrees of responsibility. As Elena Cavagnaro and George H. Curiel address in their book The Three Levels of Sustainability, with the societal, organizational and individual levels of sustainability the lines tend to get blurred. The book does an impressive job of exploring how sustainable development, corporate social responsibility and personal leadership are all linked — moreover, how one cannot achieve the goal of mitigating climate and environmental damage without the other two.
This idea was especially captivating after realizing that 100 companies source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. Within the social media community of eco-bloggers, when this study resurfaced from a Guardian article of 2017 (https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jul/10/100-fossil-fuel-companies-investors-responsible-71-global-emissions-cdp-study-climate-change) it gained a lot of traction. Following this, a message about corporate social responsibility was put out emphasizing a commercial and corporate level of responsibility. It was fascinating to see how quickly and easily people will chose where to point their finger without first exploring their personal involvement in the issue.