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.
Very good point. This is where social justice and climate change come together. Hurricane Katrina is a good example. Whether or not it was caused by global warming, it shows that climate changes most strongly affect those who are already less privileged.
Unfortunately, one of the reasons so many Americans (and maybe Canadians, though I can’t speak for them) aren’t concerned about climate change: it doesn’t dramatically effect them.
We may be an economic superpower, but we do have some problems. We’re fighting multiple wars and we have an unsteady economy. (Several major banks and the biggest automotive company have been nationalized in the last few months.) If a politician wants to delay climate legislation, he or she can just say that it would hurt the economy and a certain number of people will believe that.
Still, our climate bill is making progress. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it passed, but I don’t know what it will look like by then.
You asked what the United States plans to do about Global Warming. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but life around here is good and Americans want to keep it that way. Everyone wants to be like us. Everyone wants to live in America. Americans only want changes that make us happier, and changing Global Warming won’t make us happier.
Does Global Warming affects Americans? You bet it does. Read on.
Here it is, 82°F in central Illinois in the middle of October and not a cloud in the sky. Global Warming has been good to us; now we can go outside in T-shirts and shorts just about any month of the year. OK, maybe we’ll stay inside our air-conditioned McMansions in July and August or drive a couple hundred miles to a water park. That is why we live in the United States and not in Canada; we like our warm weather. Our motto is, “Don’t Mess With Global Warming.”
You probably know that we have lots of cars and SUVs and boats and giant houses and more food than we’ll ever eat. And because we love food so much, we’re still searching for that miracle pill that will melt away the extra 75-150 pounds of fat from our stomachs and butts. But we are fortunate, because the government is secretly reimbursing us when we buy big vans with 800 pound lift capacity. http://www.americanwheelchairs.com/liftreimb.shtml Our government-funded 4-wheel drive battery powered butt conveyance systems and our 800 pound lifts will assure that we have long and productive lives. I’m guessing that these things probably work better in warmer environments; I’m not sure how they would perform in Canada’s Arctic weather. So Global Warming is a good thing.
You asked if Americans would be willing to give up something. I took a poll and the major consensus was that Canada can have our mosquitoes, Asian lady bugs, and Japanese beetles. Americans sacrifice for Global Warming? Not on your life. Here is what the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate think about Global Warming: http://www.grist.org/article/2010-09-14-now-all-republican-senate-candidates-deny-global-warming/
I’m sorry, Kate, but life is just too good around here to risk upsetting the apple cart. I’ll tell you what Americans will do for Canada though; we’ll keep buying your oil as long as other countries will loan us the money.
On a more serious note, Kate, I’m as concerned about the world’s long-term survival as you are, but the prospects for any significant Global Warming or Climate Change mitigation by the United States Government or the American people in the foreseeable future don’t look good.