The State of Climate Change

According to NASA’s “Vital Signs of the Planet,” carbon dioxide levels have reached 410 parts per million, the highest in 650,000 years. Additionally, global temperature has increased approximately 1.9°F since 1880, roughly the beginning of the Industrial revolution, the time period when use of fossil fuels began in massive proportions. Simply put, human activity has created a global crisis over the past 120 years. However, in contrast with earlier decades, countries now feel the heat; figuratively, as protesters and world leaders press for more action against climate change, but also literally, with Western European heatwaves breaking temperature records this summer. Although actions like the Paris Climate Agreement remain milestones in counteracting climate change, the negative effects of President Trump’s policies have transformed a beacon of hope into just another failed attempt of diplomacy. Furthermore, one can trace the roots of this failure to excuses regarding the potential job loss taking action against climate change might cause, or the shortcomings of other nations. However, as shown by the economic possibilities that lie in artificial intelligence and the ways in which other countries have transformed their economies, these excuses are outdated.  Therefore, the US must reclaim its role in leading the world in confronting climate change.

Innovative Compromise

In a recent article, National Geographic outlined the ways in which artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to help combat climate change. For example, AI can greatly improve climate predictions, and also the process of obtaining climate data from ice cores. Claire Monteleoni, a University of Colorado Boulder computer science professor, states that currently “there’s a lot of uncertainty,” regarding long term climate predictions. Focusing on advancing current AI technology could help determine what the future really looks like for our earth. Not only would more advanced technology boost the credibility of claims made on the potential impacts of climate change, but improved data could also help scientists find solutions later. Although not a direct solution, the improved information can allow for better informed politicians and citizens, and consequently better legislation to solve climate change. There are more direct ways in which AI can assist, too. The new technology has carbon tracking abilities that allow for carbon emissions and pollution to be measured on a larger scale. Carbon tracking can be utilized in locations where the technology is not already in place, without having to wait for permissions. Carbon tracking on a global scale could help enforce and calculate carbon taxes more efficiently where they are already implemented, or compel other countries to apply carbon taxes. Carbon emissions contribute heavily to the warming effect disrupting the environment, therefore a tax on carbon would prevent more extensive damage to the earth. The US should encourage any technology that can aid in lessening carbon emissions. The benefits of new technology reach further than helping fight climate change. In a laissez-faire economy like America’s, innovation keeps the economy growing. Advancing AI could create jobs and inspire solutions to other global issues, keeping our economy healthy while also allowing the US to regain its status as a leader in the fight against climate change.

Not Job Loss, Rather Job Reinvention

Often cited in discussions about climate change is the excuse that taxing carbon, or shifting away from coal mining and other common forms of non-renewable resources, would harm Americans by destroying jobs in those sectors. However, this thought process has no rational basis. Just as a farmer rotates their crops to promote growth, change remains necessary to the growth of an economy. Moving towards a more environment friendly economy does not require job loss, simply job reinvention. A man who once made his living mining coal instead might learn the skills necessary to work in the wind energy industry instead. The ability to adapt to world changes measures the strength of an economy, and in some cases, these adaptations improve upon the old system, rather than just replace it. In a study on the shift of ten European countries towards an economy more dependent on renewable energy sources, a conclusion reached stated that while “expensive in the short run (in terms of economic growth, employment, revenues, etc.),” in the long run the change was beneficial. While it is difficult to compare a complete shift in the economies of countries so different from the US in terms of demographics and size, countries including Canada have applied changes to better the environment as well. For instance, in 2017, Shell divested itself of the Canadian oil sands, and began investing “up to $2 billion a year in clean energy.” Other countries have had success in adapting their economies and policies to more climate friendly options, and frankly, the time has come for the US to follow in their footsteps.

Shifting the Blame: The Paris Climate Agreement

When Trump stated his intentions to leave the Paris Climate Agreement, he cited a few different reasons, including the fact that the deal was unfair to the US, requiring higher payment than from other countries, and that other countries “will never pay one dime.”  Although the US agreed to pay $3 billion (more than any country), the US also holds responsibility for “approximately one third of the carbon dioxide that has been emitted.” Additionally, while the financial contributions of other countries may be less, some have more progressive policies regarding climate change and carbon emissions, a prime example being China. Long heralded as the largest contributor to carbon emissions, China in recent years has been making strides to change that, shutting down tens of thousands of factories. Furthermore, Trump could have resolved his qualms regarding America’s payment in a more diplomatic fashion. The Paris Climate Agreement required a “Nationally Determined Contribution” from each of its members, chosen by countries, not assigned. Theoretically, rather than simply pulling out of the entire deal, Trump could have adjusted the United States’ original contribution if he truly felt that the deal was unfair to the US. Rather than blindly retreat from the agreement, the US should take responsibility for its emissions, at the very least attempting to find a diplomatic solution to the issue.

Fear as the Enemy of Reason

As tensions mounted at the start of the Great Depression in the 1930’s, President FDR told the American people that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Just as it did then, today the world faces a great societal danger, the solutions to which are hindered by citizens’ fear of economic insecurity. This fear, in both cases, has influenced the decisions people make, and FDR’s statement still rings true. No matter how much data or innovative solutions one compiles, people will still be afraid to take the step towards change. On the other hand, perhaps we should be more afraid of the consequences that a lack of action will have, rather than those that might occur from taking action. According to the United Nations, we only have eleven years left to combat climate change before it becomes irreversible. This report emphasizes the fact that the necessity for action against climate change has grown in urgency, closely following job security. However, just as during the depression, America can adapt to a changing world. We must elect a leader who does not let fear become the enemy of reason, but instead seeks to find a solution. Joe Biden recently outlined his “Green New Deal” plan to use $1.7 trillion to put in place a series of plans that would “eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”  FDR’s revolutionary New Deal created jobs for millions of people, and plans similar to Biden’s will do the same today. As discussed earlier, artificial intelligence and other forms of clean energy have the potential to create new jobs and strengthen our economy. As shown by Joe Biden’s plan, we have politicians willing to take the next step to lead America in combating climate change. Outdated excuses aside, arguably only one thing stands in the way of taking action against climate change: fear.

Potential Solutions

Although the future may appear bleak, a good first step towards affecting change would be to educate citizens more on not only the biological implications of climate change, but also the economic impact of different solutions and models. Hopefully, this education will be reflected in the votes of the new generation, resulting in a government willing to adapt to climate issues. However, this change will take more time than we have. In the meantime, the US should halt the process of exiting the Paris Climate Agreement. By approaching these matters in a more diplomatic manner, hopefully the international community can reach a solution to climate change. Most importantly, the time has come to recognize the excuses the US has made in regards to actions against climate change, and take responsibility for them. Only then can we move forward to find a solution to climate change.

[Image Attribute: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center]