The UN climate change report predicts an environmental catastrophe that the U.S. won’t combat.
Two weeks ago, the United Nations released a climate change report commissioned by the signers of the Paris Climate Accords. The report outlines a bleak future for the planet, predicting catastrophic changes as early as 2040. The commission originally sought to investigate the damage wrought by the global temperature increasing by a projected 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) by 2050. However, scientists were forced to adjust their parameters when they realized that an increase of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) by the same benchmark could lead to the destruction of millions of lives and trillions of dollars in damages across the world.
The report concluded that if the world did not fundamentally alter its economy and energy consumption by 2030, the planet’s decline would be irreversible. However, scientists admitted that this would be almost impossible with the world’s largest producer of carbon emissions, the United States, pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, as well as the leader of the free world’s continued skepticism on climate change.
We are screwed. The planet’s infrastructure primarily operates on petroleum/coal energy consumption, aka nasty, nonrenewable fossil fuels that burn up Earth’s ozone layer. Only 20 percent of the world’s energy sources are renewable, and the UN report states that this number would need to increase by 67 percent in 11 years to prevent a series of calamities unlike anything in human history. That’s not only ludicrous, but it’s also possible that even with the world scrambling to accomplish this, we cannot undo the destruction already unleashed by the countless tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.
The rest of the world can do what it likes: establish progressive carbon taxes, nationalize energy companies and rapidly mobilize investment in renewable resources, but the United States of America remains the guilty party. With a whopping four percent of Earth’s population, the United States consumes the largest share of its energy and overwhelmingly utilizes fossil fuels as its main power source. It has refused to adopt progressive environmental policies despite decades of warning from climate scientists, because the dominant political party, the Republicans, vehemently rejects the existence of human-made climate change.
I know it seems like a classic leftist college student to blame America’s problems on the Republicans. However, the current president has backed this point to an extreme. Trump ran on restoring the inescapably dying coal industry in Appalachia and inexplicably pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords only months after his inauguration. When the UN report came out, Republicans continued to question the truth of the claims made by the scientists, because these old, white lawyers and doctors suddenly earned PhDs in climate science to complement their psychological and gender studies graduate degrees.
So, what can be done? I’m not going to pretend that anything of substance can be realized on a micro-level. 72 percent of our fossil fuel consumption stems from corporations, and that isn’t going away under this conservative regime. The United States is run by money; solar, wind and hydroelectric power are not profitable enough to a Republican Party controlled by the fossil fuel lobby. Once the cornerstone of America’s rise to military and economic hegemony, oil will prove the planets undoing.
What the world is asking of the American people is a series of miracles; it will take a progressive revolution to undo decades of neoliberalism that has suffocated American democracy. We need massive investments in scientific breakthroughs that can perfect renewable efficiency and trap enormous amounts of carbon. Most important, we need to institute national programs that will implement these technologies across the United States within 11 years.
The stakes cannot be higher, and the financial costs are frankly irrelevant. We’re talking about heavily-populated islands and thousands of miles of coastline disappearing under water, hurricanes with the potential to level entire cities, mass migrations for stable land and water and droughts of biblical proportions within our lifetimes. While the affluent Baby Boomers responsible for this crisis will die before they feel the repercussions for their negligence, younger generations will certainly face these disasters.
Millennials need to lead this charge. While we may be unable to prevent the sheer catastrophe forecasted by our current course, any action that helps the environment might save millions of lives. The CEOs and politicians who steered us to this crisis point have committed crimes against humanity, and the next decade will reveal the best and worst of us while we clamor to prepare ourselves for this end. The question is what we decide to do about it: can America reassert its place as the world’s moral champion in time, or will its complacency condemn the world to an environmental apocalypse?