The past year has been encouraging for those Americans resolved to confront the challenges of global climate change. Despite the vast amount of work yet to be done, a series of recent political events has illustrated America’s growing commitment to addressing the most critical issue of our time.
On April 2, 2007, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency made our federal government responsible for the regulation of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Current presidential hopefuls from all sides of the political spectrum have indicated that they will take action to reduce the American contribution to global climate change if elected. Despite the popular shift toward climate change solutions, I frequently hear arguments against expanded carbon dioxide emissions regulation.
Many claim that America should not impose strict emissions regulations because polluters in developing nations will not be held to the same standards. American industries will suffer an undue financial blow as they are forced to choose between rethinking polluting practices and paying heavy fines. Unregulated overseas operations will continue at a lower cost with a significant advantage over American industries.
President George W. Bush described his similar feelings on climate change in a 2001 letter to several senators: “I oppose the Kyoto Protocol because it exempts 80 percent of the world, including major population centers such as China and India, from compliance, and would cause serious harm to the U.S. economy.”
One fact that was conveniently omitted from this statement was that America emits a disproportionately large volume of carbon dioxide for its relatively small population. This means American carbon emissions are significantly higher on a per capita basis than in many other parts of the world. Even though 80 percent of the world’s population is unaccounted for in the protocol, its ratification in America would have been a huge step in the fight against growing emissions.
Bush’s talk of “serious harm to the U.S. economy” resulting from carbon emissions reductions still resonates with some, but many believe that exactly the opposite is the case. Avoiding new low-carbon technologies could really damage our economy.
As Americans, we have the opportunity to lead the change against carbon emissions. This is not the kiss of death for American industry. It is a chance to pioneer a new industry! The increased regulation of carbon dioxide emissions will rally America’s creative minds and lead to the growth of a new clean energy economy.
Even with a skeptical president, however, America is making some progress toward a reduction in human-caused climate disruption. Over the course of his presidency, Bush slowly started to accept the urgency of climate change. In his recent State of the Union address, he called for the establishment of an international clean technology fund, which would “help developing nations like India and China make greater use of clean energy sources.”
Working with foreign governments to support clean technology abroad is a wonderful way to cause simultaneous economic growth and pollution reduction. This is a win-win situation for everyone involved. The success of such a fund would be a huge step in the right direction because, if it is set up well, it has the potential to include all world economies in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.
As I look forward to graduating shortly, I intend to participate in the United States’ shift toward clean energy technology. This emerging industry will not stifle the American economy, but strengthen it. We’ve got a long way to go, but I am one of many young Americans ready to jump in and get to work.
Matt Hutton is an environmental engineering senior, the Empower Poly Coalition external vice president and a Mustang Daily environmental columnist.