Still Not Enough: The U.S. and Climate Change

Li-An Lim/Unsplash

Hayley Serpa/Staff Writer

This past Earth Day, President Joe Biden hosted the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate and just before that organized two-day talks between representatives of the United States and the People’s Republic of China. The goals of these talks were of increased mutual cooperation regarding the global issue of climate change. As the two major contributors of carbon emissions to the atmosphere, it is crucial that these two nations set aside their differences to combat the increasing temperatures currently besetting the international community. 

Yet, the U.S., historically responsible for most of the emissions of greenhouse gases is not the one most affected by the devastating effects of climate change and consequently, their actions to combat it have consistently fallen short. The overexploited countries of the Global South bear the brutal brunt of the horrible effects of climate change not only on their environment but on society itself as climate refugees are forced to leave their lands, water supplies and agricultural yields decline exponentially, and destructive weather patterns become more frequent. 

While President Biden has re-entered the Paris Climate Accord, many of the agreement’s stipulations and the U.S.’s promises are still not enough to fix the damage done over the decades by it’s wealth accumulating and extremely polluting industry practices. Biden’s recent pledge to cut emissions by 50% to 52% of the 2005 emission levels still does not reach the levels needed to follow the 1.5 degree increase of global temperature by 2030 promised by the Paris Climate Accords. 

Not only that, but the United States as one of the main economic powerhouses worldwide and as a country whose status has come from polluting industrial practices, should take greater responsibility in fighting climate change in the developing nations of the Global South who have been hit the hardest by the ongoing climate crisis. For example, families in Guatemala and other countries of Central America have fled north as their crops fail due to severe changes in global climate. This inequity that exists between those countries responsible for the most carbon contamination historically and those most affected by climate change is known by scientists as climate debt. 

However, the U.S. administration has continued to ignore their role in the climate inequity identified by science. For many countries, like India and China, the U.S. has not yet taken up it’s fair share of the action in the global fight against climate change. The hypocritical stance taken by the United States on climate change can best be seen in US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry’s recent visit to India, where he reminded the nations of the necessity of switching over to clean energy sources while the fossil fuel sectors in the U.S. still received about $20 billion in direct national subsidies. This money was in addition to the $62 billion received in “implicit subsidies” by the federal government. 

Actions like these by the government of the United States that fail to consider their own guilt while reprimanding the actions of other sovereign nations are seen throughout the world of international climate policy. For this reason, some people believe that the U.S. should strive to commit itself even further in the global fight for climate change, with a 70% emissions reduction and $800 billion to assist the international community. Big sacrifices will have to be made by the U.S. administration if they hope to preserve the state of the planet as we know it and do the right thing. 

Yet, all of these changes seem almost impossible to accomplish even with the goals we have right now. Slowing down the frightening pace of climate change would affect all parts of industry and the government itself. Even U.S. foreign policy depends on the fossil fuel industry. This makes it almost impossible for the current U.S. government to take any radical action regarding climate change, leading us to the place we are now. 

The United States, one of the first countries mass vaccinating the majority of its people against coronavirus and one of the most economically developed countries, has the capacity to do more and must do more in the fight against climate change. They must recognize their own part in the climate inequity seen today and assist the other members of the international community in their own efforts. Further commitments of carbon cuts and changes within the fossil fuel industries must also be made. This is not a problem that can wait.


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Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash