The future is melting away: The current state of climate change
design: Brooke Farren and Carissa Long
Five short months after being inaugurated, President Donald Trump stood before the White House Rose Garden while resting his hands atop the presidential podium. It was there he officially announced that the United States was going to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. With that, the status of climate change was forever altered in just a 30-minute speech.
The issue of climate change is pressing; as each day passes, there begins a rise and fall in temperature and thus devastating the earth. This not only affects the environment, but contributes to disease and harmful emissions into the environment. Political administrations and policies are responsible to resist this precarious phenomenon and change the outcome for the better.
Political Science major at OSU Jonathan Maier said the Paris Climate Accord is an agreement that was designed to reduce the risks of climate change and, “The Paris Agreement isn’t perfect, but it's the largest cooperative agreement that many countries have in terms of trying to combat climate change.”
According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), some goals of the Paris Agreement include conservation, striving to reduce the temperature and the introduction of new technologies that are designed to reduce global warming. In addition to this, there are 189 countries already involved in the agreement.
Stepping away from the Paris Agreement allowed the United States to be more lenient in addressing rising temperatures, otherwise known as global warming. The rise in temperature is caused by the vast amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, which traps heat in the ozone. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), eight out of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 1998.
Greenhouse gases consist of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases. “Methane is a greenhouse gas that, while burns out of the atmosphere quicker than carbon, is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide,” Director of climate programs at Ohio Environmental Council Sarah Spence said.
While it may seem straightforward at first, there are many different sources of greenhouse gas emissions, making this a difficult problem to solve. According to the EPA, transportation was responsible for 28 percent of greenhouse emissions in 2018, while electricity, industries, commercial and residential uses and agriculture were responsible for 27 percent, 22 percent, 12 percent and 10 percent respectively.
When discussing this, co-leader of the Columbus Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a non-profit environmental organization, Donny Murray said, “The use of fossil fuels to run our economy will have the most impact today and in the future.”
Fossil fuels consist of coal, oil and natural gas and are what most countries use to create energy. However, according to the EPA, greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere during the combustion of fossil fuels, making them one of the biggest contributors to global warming considering the fact that they are used for almost all of the previously named sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
This combustion of fossil fuels has contributed to the melting of permafrost by causing the rise in atmospheric temperatures, which is dangerous as it can lead to the start and spread of disease.
If any earthly material like sand, gravel or different soil types are frozen for more than two years in a row, it’s considered permafrost. Permafrost has the perfect conditions to preserve the viruses for long periods of time.
According to the BBC, "Permafrost is a very good preserver of microbes and viruses because it is cold, there is no oxygen and it is dark," evolutionary biologist and virologist at Aix-Marseille University Jean-Michel Claverie said.
When the permafrost thaws and melts, the viruses can still find a host, infect them and spread to others. This is taking place more often because of rising temperatures on Earth.
According to Greenpeace UK’s Unearthed, Dr Chantal Abergel said, “If the viruses come into contact with a proper host, then they will reactivate. So, if you put a human in a place with frozen viruses associated with pandemic, then those humans could be infected, replicate the virus and start a new pandemic.”
Another cause of the rapid melting of permafrost are the effects deforestation has on climate change. According to National Geographic, the world lost 502,000 square miles of forest between 1990 and 2016. Trees absorb the greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere. Therefore, the more that trees are cut down at an alarming rate, the less they can be used to prevent global warming.
Along with deforestation, mass farming has become a big cause of climate change too. According to the Humane Society of the United States, at least 90 million tons of carbon dioxide are produced annually worldwide in order to maintain and operate factory farms, in addition to tens of millions of tons being emitted as a result of the processing and packaging of animal products.
Mass farming has also been shown to be responsible for 35-40 percent of all total methane gas emissions, which is mostly produced as animals such as pigs and cows digest grasses.
The withdrawal of the Paris Agreement relaxed regulations on the farming and animal product businesses, which industry executives benefited from.
But even though the United States is no longer involved in the Paris Agreement, there are still precautions put in place to reduce the risk of global warming. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, there are policies put in place like emission taxes for corporations, giving a motive to reduce the amount of carbon emissions released. However, with Biden’s upcoming inauguration, this will change.
“President Elect Biden has committed to rejoining the Paris Agreement, but the US role is still uncertain. Our commitment is non-binding because it is an agreement, not a formal treaty. Essentially, if the US Senate were to confirm US recognition of the agreement, it would bind the US by our law to comply,” AP Government teacher John Carmichael said.
According to Joe Biden’s campaign website, he plans for a “clean energy revolution and environmental justice.” In order to carry out this plan, President Elect Biden is going to enforce several executive orders that aim towards a 100 percent clean energy economy. Also, he will be working with other countries to create a stronger nation and put an end to climate change.
The battle for climate change restrictions didn’t start with Biden and Trump, though, as the Paris Agreement wasn’t the first attempt made to reduce climate change; climate change became a national issue 30 years prior. In 1992, President H.W. Bush created the first climate change task force, the UNFCCC, and said, “The United States fully intends to be the world’s pre-eminent leader in protecting the global environment.”
Following Bush, President Clinton adopted the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, according to the UN. This legally binding agreement confirmed that countries would reduce emission rates, but the Senate failed to ratify it. During President Obama's administration, the United States officially joined the Paris Agreement.
Politicians within the government are not the only ones fighting for or against climate change regulations, though. As the effects of climate change have become more apparent over the years, more people have called for stricter policies to be placed, specifically to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Citizens' Climate Lobby advocates for the passage of the federal legislation known as Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. This bill would put a fee on the carbon emissions and return the proceeds to every American on a monthly basis through a dividend payment. The polluters will pay their fair share and people are protected against cost increases,” Murray said. reintroduce?
The Ohio Environmental Council would also like to see stricter policies be put in place, specifically for methane. “The OEC is actively advocating to restore the federal EPA rules for more stringent methane regulations that prevent flaring of methane and place restrictions on the acceptable amount of methane leakage,” Spence said.
Some celebrities have even joined in the discussion, like Bill Gates who has mentioned that global warming can contribute to more pandemics in the future, and emphasized how important it is to prevent them.
In a Ted Talk, Gates said, “Today, the greatest risk of global catastrophe doesn't look like [war]. Instead, it looks like this. If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it's most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes.”
Gates urged people in leadership positions to work to become more prepared after the Ebola pandemic. Since society is advanced enough for cell phones and new biology technology, there is a greater chance to lessen the outcomes of the future.
“We have advances in biology that should dramatically change the turnaround time to look at a pathogen and be able to make drugs and vaccines that fit for that pathogen. So, we can have tools, but those tools need to be put into an overall global health system. And we need preparedness,” Gates said in the Ted Talk.
Although not all citizens are billionaires with access to research and climate funding, everyone can make an impact by being more environmentally friendly in general, even on a small scale. This will prevent climate change in the first place and will be better for the planet as a whole.
“Using less plastic waste, replacing gas with electricity, bettering factories and other large corporations’ emissions are all some ways we could help prevent climate change,” sophomore Aanya Tummalapalli said.
Additionally, Professor of Geology and Geography and Director of Environmental Studies at Ohio Wesleyan University John Krygier recommended to “become a member of the Citizens Climate Lobby. They are a bipartisan group lobbying for climate change legislation in the United States.”
Not everyone believes in climate change though, which makes creating climate change policy difficult, and many stalemates within government.
“The challenge rests with the issue of equality of measures. For example, the Paris accords, which the US pulled out of, did not require India and Russia to commit financial resources, whereas, other nation states committed to doing so. Conditions such as these give excuses for political actors to claim fighting global warming is unfair,” Carmichael said.
In addition to this, controversy also rests in the hands of the people; those who don’t believe in it make it less accepted among others. Also, the solution to climate change is a long-term solution.
“In the United States, there are people who don't believe in how serious climate change is, so it's hard to motivate people to do things necessary to combat climate change. Conquering climate change also costs a lot of money, so it's hard to motivate people to send money to solve a problem that is not immediately effective,” Maier said.
Climate change is a pressing issue and dealing with the controversies and diplomatic relations with others makes it difficult to solve any problems on a global level. Nonetheless, becoming more environmentally friendly can reduce one’s personal carbon footprint, and help contribute to a greener and longer lasting planet.