posted 2011-09-21 13:00:02

To stem climate change, political and economic change is neccesary

IIustration by Salim Westvind
IIustration by Salim Westvind
The mindset of Climate Change

Sahara Shrestha

Contributing Writer

Climate change is not a hoax, it is happening.

The Arctic—habitat for diverse species like polar bears and walruses—is melting fast. In addition to affecting wildlife, the thinning of ice also means more warming. According to NPR correspondent Richard Harris, about 80 percent of the sun's energy is reflected back into space when it hits the artic ice. But when melting ice exposes the ocean, the darker surface of the water absorbs 90 percent of the incoming energy. That heat spreads to nearby lands, defrosting the frozen ground as it moves South. We may lose historic glacial fresh water supplies for good.  The active increase in greenhouse gases is altering the climate at a faster rate than some living creatures may be able to adapt.  It’s possible that our tightly interdependent ecosystem will not be able to reconcile the changes.

Insulated by greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels, the average global temperature hasrisen by 1 degree Fahrenheit and global sea levels have risen 4 to 8 inches over the last 100 years.  Plants and animals are moving North, away from the equator, at rates faster than a decade ago and faster than predicted.

Weather patterns are changing; in August, we saw Hurricane Irene run up the Eastern Seaboard. Fortunately for New York, by the time it got to us it was reduced to a tropical storm—fortunate because our infrastructure is not built for hurricanes.  Historically, such weather patterns have been rare in New York.  As average temperatures shoot up, winds and ocean currents transport heat around the globe in ways that can cool some areas, heat others, and change the amount of rain and snow that falls in a certain place. Consequently, climate change has affected different areas in different ways, and sometimes rather unpredictably.  Increased weather volatility may mean more severe major storms, and more rain followed by longer and drier droughts—a challenge for those growing food. The incredible size of the the Texas wildfires that engulfed massive areas is partially a result of extreme drought, this has been the hottest and driest summer on record.

Yet, as the arctic melts, governments still seem more interested in the potential opening of major commercial shipping routes between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and in gaining the rights to the wealth of more oil, more gas, and other minerals buried under.  Russia and Exxon have already reached an agreement that allows for oil exploration in the Russian division of the Arctic Ocean.

Pressured by the right, President Obama recently retracted the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ozone regulation draft for fears of further job loss. Most corporations don’t like regulations because they add to their expenses.  Politically, this could encourage Republicans to oppose reforms, as they seek votes and industry money. Yet, as the arctic melts, governments still seem more interested in the potential opening of major commercial shipping routes between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and in gaining the rights to the wealth of more oil, more gas, and other minerals buried under.  Russia and Exxon have already reached an agreement that allows for oil exploration in the Russian division of the Arctic Ocean.

The argument goes that if businesses are required to follow regulations they’re going to have to shut down. The choice to shut down is simple and clear: costs of saving the environment is not “profitable,” and the goal of business is profit.  Meanwhile, corporations don’t lack money, they are “sitting on idle cash,” as Paul Krugman put it in the New York Times recently.  Krugman argues that stricter ozone regulation would have, in reality, created jobs: it would have obligated companies to spend on “upgrading or replacing equipment,” helping to increase demand. But corporations choose not to invest because the time is not favorable for yielding desired returns.

But shouldn’t corporations sew what they rip? Or must the poor always bare the burden? Global warming is devastating to agriculture—a basic resource for all lives and a prominent source of dough for developing nations who lag in climate change adaptation technology and finance.

America has the capacity to initiate climate change programs, but the internal divisions on the issue are tragic obstacles only adding fuel to fire.  Since Democrats are concerned about climate change while Republicans don’t give it much importance, the impression is that the issue isn’t real or scientific, just political. Blogger E.G. of The Economist calls the effect a “feedback loop,” “if climate change were real, why is it so polarising? Because it's so polarising, it must be slightly suspicious.”

It’s true, and when citizens cannot grasp the reality and gravity of such situations, they are not able to participate in solving them.  Due to the high costs of a large-scale effort to fight global warming, politicians, the mainstream media and their followers seem to be trying to ignore the issue instead. America seems to be pretending the issue doesn't exist, or that the economy, along with development, is more important.

To control global warming there must be a change in this attitude and in the means of energy production on a world scale. A switch from oil and coal to more economical sources like solar and wind power is necessary. In a capitalist society, however, the main motivation for change seems not concern for social welfare, but the incessant push towards profit.