A nation’s policies usually only affect its citizens. Take health care, crime, or taxes. These policies could affect the rest of the world indirectly – through the economy, for example – but the benefits and consequences of the policies’ effectiveness, or lack thereof, will be present first and foremost in the nation in which they were created.
Climate change legislation doesn’t work the same way.
Firstly, the mechanism of climate change is just not fair. If it was, the countries which had caused the problem would suffer the greatest consequences, and those which had had no hand in causing the problem would go on as normal. Unfortunately, the areas which will suffer the most from a warming climate are affected due to their physical geography – such as latitude, ocean and wind currents, and topography – not due to the amount they contributed to the problem. This means that a lot of developing nations, whose per capita carbon emissions are virtually nil, will suffer greatly from climate change.
Additionally, developed nations are undoubtedly the best equipped to deal with the consequences they do suffer. Here in Canada, for example, we have floodways, free health care, food reserves, and insurance. But look at somewhere like sub-Saharan Africa. What backup plans do they have for natural disasters?
I am not suggesting that I want the developed nations to experience the drastic consequences of their actions. Conversely, I am suggesting that the developed nations have a global responsibility to repair their actions, as the consequences will affect many who are innocent and unequipped.
We should stop looking at climate change legislation, or lack thereof, as “How will this help or hurt me?” and start looking at it as “How will this affect the rest of the world?”
An interlude of Canadian politics
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, head of our minority government (for our American friends – read up on Canada’s governmental system here if you’re lost) hasn’t done a lot about climate change. When he came into power several years ago, he got rid of the previous government’s emission plan and got rid of our Kyoto agreement. Then he created a “20% emission reduction by 2020” plan which looked pretty decent. But then the economy went downhill and he got rid of that plan as well. Now he’s pledged to not take any action against climate change until the US plan is fully underway – 2016 or so.
Luckily, here in Canada, we can call elections whenever we want (not just every four years), so he may be out as early as September, depending on how angry the opposition gets with him.
Regardless, it’s pretty obvious that Canada isn’t going to take any action until the United States does.
Why I care about US policy
I am not a citizen of the United States. I’ve only ever travelled there, I believe, three times. I assume that the US culture is quite similar to Canada’s, but I don’t know for sure. I’m perplexed at the lack of recycling in the States.
But I care a lot about what the US does in terms of climate change policy. I care what American citizens think about climate change. I believe that when the US takes significant action, the rest of the world will follow. As an economic superpower, the US has the biggest potential to be a leader in climate change action. As the largest per-capita emitter in the world, it also has the biggest potential to make climate change worse if it doesn’t take action.
“Why do you care about US policy?” you may ask me. “It’s not even your country.”
No, it’s not my country.
But it is my world. It’s everyone’s world. And what the United States does about climate change will affect everyone.