Exploring the Heated Climate Debate in the Trump Era

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President Donald Trump announcing his decision to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Accords in the Whitehouse Rose Garden on June 1st. Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera. (Image Description: President Donald Trump speaks at a podium with the White House in the background.)

Article By: Sam Falb

June 1st, 2017. Exactly six months into 2017 (Wait, already?). In these past six months, humanity at-large has experienced numerous monumental environmental events that have reshaped the way we think about our Earth, its people, and just how much of an impact we can have on the beautiful blue marble we call home.

We saw the scientifically backed death of the Great Barrier Reef in March.

We saw the rise and fall of the Standing Rock movement throughout the winter and early spring.

We saw the appointment of climate-change denier Scott Pruitt to the position of Administrator of the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency shortly after the 45th president’s ascent into office in January.

And now, perhaps most impactful of all, we see President Donald Trump’s rejection of the Paris Climate Accords.

These absolutely essential documents entrusted 196 of the world’s leaders with the protection of the Earth’s climate through several defining articles. These leaders are expected to support green energy sources, cut down on carbon emissions and limit global temperature rise, while also cooperating to cope with the present effects of climate change worldwide.

A central goal of the plan is to limit the Earth’s temperature rise from hitting two degrees, which could amount to catastrophic change worldwide. The aspirational, but not official goal of no more than a 1.5 degree rise is also included, in response to uproar from island nations that two degrees would still present disaster for their countries.

The plan allots $100 billion to the world’s developing countries, to jumpstart their green energy industries rather than take advantage of tantalizing, already present nonrenewable energy.

‘As Soon As Possible’ - the goal for peak emissions of carbon dioxide and other fossil fuels. Current projections predict that emissions will rise as developing countries consume more energy, but that the number will fall soon after.

Every five years, the accords are expected to evolve based on the current needs and response to earlier changes around the globe. The looming goal of mid-century is included for the dream: zero carbon emissions worldwide. Of course, leaders do not expect this to actually come to fruition, but that emissions will be down to such a level that planting forests and other actions will successfully combat the remaining harmful level of fossil fuels in the air.

Now you may be thinking, “Oh darn! That’s a whole lot of stuff! Why would the US bow out at such a pivotal moment in time? I guess other countries will have to pick up the fight until this gets sorted out.”

This is certainly a valid statement. It is a burning question, and other countries absolutely must pick up the fight where the US has unfortunately decided to leave off, but that’s not the end of the story, not even the beginning.

The United States is the second largest carbon pollution contributor in the entire world. The nation houses over 320 million people, over 135 million cars, and maintains three prime energy sources: natural gas, coal, and petroleum. All these factors coupled together do not equal good news. Just for starters, those three nonrenewable fuels play a toll on the environment every time a car is filled with gas, every time a light switch turns on, and every time a phone is plugged in to charge. Now imagine 320 million people doing those actions each and every day.

As of the latest data, The US alone releases 15% of the world’s carbon pollution, 6.9 million metric tons in 2014 alone. To put that in perspective, the entire European Union, which houses 508 million inhabitants to the US’s 320 million, released 9% of the world’s carbon emissions in the same year. That is a lot of pollution, and it would seem that the US has only just begun.   

Without change to its nonrenewable energy filled fuel industry, the United States risks turning the entire world on its head, and bringing down billions of innocents with it. The effects of climate change do not hover over a single nation once produced therein. The effects spread around the globe via currents, winds, and weather, and once spread, there’s no turning back for the producer or the substances locked into the air. In this way, the US can single-handedly alter the world’s climate for the worst, and the rest of the world will simply have to fall victim to such actions.

Without change, the United States of America will fundamentally change the geography of the Earth, and consequences will follow.

When you declare war on climate change, you declare war on the future.

You declare war on rural towns hugging the coasts of Louisiana, unaware of the rising waters that will drag their simple, generation-spanning lifestyle into a global conflict they never asked for.

When you declare war on climate change, you look Yemeni, Somali, and Sudanese children in the eye and say, "no, we don’t care about your drought-ridden fields, your starving friends and families.

When you declare war on climate change, you ensure the eventual eviction of the millions of people who call the Marianas Islands, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tahiti, Bora Bora, and even Hawaii their home, informing them of the microscopic value you grant their rich cultures’ thousands of years on Earth, and the unmatched beauty their islands grace us with each and every day.

When you declare war on climate change, you tell Venetians, the Dutch, New Yorkers, Floridians, and any other coastal communities that their societies are on their own, subject to rising waters that’ll literally leave them running for the hills should no solution to the problem be found.

When you declare war on climate change, you accept the extinction of polar bears, penguins, fish, coral, and all the mammoth consequences such extinctions will bring to fish-dependent regions in Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Japan, Australia, and any other individual, business, or community that not only relies on these species for work or food, but would simply like their child to grow up knowing the wonder of seeing penguins waddle across gleaming glaciers, the marvel that is bright, technicolor coral rippling across the ocean floor, and the serene beauty of watching a mother polar bear care for her young, exhibiting the gentlest touch in one of the world’s harshest, most mystifying climates.

I’m sorry, but when you declare war on climate change, you declare war on me, my friends, my family, and anyone I’ve ever said hello or goodbye to at the grocery store. And I’m sorry that those around you have pressured you so, have forced your hand this round, but you have a responsibility to your nation, and the entire, ginormous, big blue Earth. And that responsibility is to protect it with every fiber of your being being.

Because true leaders protect their people, not evoke fear in them.

If you’re a true leader, you know what you need to do and until then, the world is watching. And we won’t be complacent.