U.S. Global Climate Policy

In an interview with Atlantic Monthly, President Barack Obama was asked about his plans in the Middle East and about defeating ISIS. In response, Obama stated that ISIS was not an existential threat to the country and instead shifted focus onto climate change saying that that was the true existential threat that the U.S., and the world, faces. Obama touched on the topic of U.S. leadership, saying that every summit he has attended, the U.S. has been setting the agenda on all fronts including climate change, “whether you’re talking about nuclear security, whether you’re talking about saving the world financial system, whether you’re talking about climate.” Even, he understands that the U.S. has taken a leading role in fighting climate change.

 

This American leadership, and global strategy against climate change culminated on December 2015, in Paris at the international climate conference. At this conference, 195 different countries entered into the first ever legally binding global climate agreement. The ultimate goal of the Paris agreement is to achieve global climate neutrality before the end of the century and keeping the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels. Some of the terms included in the agreement involve countries meeting again every 5 years to set additional goals, reporting to others and the public their progress, and providing support for these changes to developing countries. The agreement is set to take effect in 2020.

 

Aside from the Paris summit, and tackling climate change on the international level, the Obama administration has done his fair share advancing The United States climate policy proving just how seriously it is being taken. According to the U.S. State Department, in 2012, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dropped to their lowest level in two decades and foreign oil imports are at the lowest level in 40 years and still declining. Wind energy production has also tripled and solar energy production has increased tenfold under the Obama administration and solar is projected to have its best year yet in 2016.

 

Obama has also put forward the United States Climate Action Plan. This plan lays out strategies that will hopefully reduce carbon and methane emissions from power plants and natural gas systems respectively, and HFC’s (hydrofluorocarbons) from cooling systems. This plan is meant to help reach the 2020 commitment for the Paris agreements and ideally set a standard for much of the international community. President Obama is hoping to set the stage for the U.S. to continue its leading role once the Paris summit reconvenes in 2020.

 

President Obama also proposed various tools to bolster global resilience at the Paris Summit. According to a release from the Whitehouse press secretary, these tools include “improved and extended extreme weather risk outlooks to help avoid loss of life and property; data, tools and services to enable countries to better prepare for the impacts of climate change, including a new release of global elevation data; and an announcement of a new public-private partnership to ensure that the climate data, tools, and products made available by U.S. technical agencies are useful to developing countries.” The same press release also discusses an executive order by Obama that would require federal agencies to include climate resilience in international development programs.

It is nice to see that not only is American energy on the path towards a more renewable and sustainable future, but that we are also taking a fundamental role in getting the rest of the world there as well. While the American public still has a way to go with accepting these changes, with about 63 percent of the public supporting Obamas climate plan, this is definitely a step in the right direction. At least the rest of the world is coming together, on this one issue, to tackle this ever present threat.

Flint Michigan Water Crisis

This last November, an investigative journalist named Curt Guyette spoke at American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s annual dinner. He, backed by scientists, doctors, politician, lawyers and activists, spoke about the contamination of the city’s water supply. Basically, officials had made the decision in 2014 to make the switch from the city’s water supply, coming out of Detroit, to Flint River. The original water supply coming out of Detroit contained corrosion control chemicals while the supply coming from Flint River did not. Water from the Flint River supply ended up corroding pipes and introducing hazardous materials into the city’s water supply. Among the most prevalent metals that leached into the water supply was lead. In some areas, the water tested for lead levels tested so high that it was at nearly double the amount at which water is considered hazardous waste. According to Guyette and his colleagues, city officials kept telling Flint residents the situation was under control and the water was safe. Not only that, but Guyette claims that officials also suppressed findings that the water was not in fact safe. The article also talks about how both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns made statements condemning governor Rick Snyder’s actions, with Sanders even calling for his reassignment.

This issue demonstrates the blatant disregard for environmental and public well-being by public officials. Too often we see politicians or corporations ignore health in wellness in order to cut corners or grow business. This situation shows exactly why they shouldn’t be allowed to do that and if they do, they need to be held accountable. Legislation protecting the environment from this type of abuse is not nearly expansive enough. Bills regarding green business practices, renewable energy, sustainable measures taken at the local, state and federal level, need to passed and implemented. Only then will situations like be easier to prevent, and the correct people would be held accountable were it to happen. A situation of this scale, while tragic could be seen as a jumping point. From this, people might see the necessity behind stronger regulations and overreach. There are many solutions as well. The EPA, for one, could be given more authority and oversight capabilities in order to determine if a course of action taken by the government will have any negative impacts on the environment or the general public. Incentives (while in existence, are far too slim) could be given to businesses in order to promote a transition to more sustainable practices or renewable energy sources. It all starts with getting the correct people in office. The American people, after seeing and experiencing these kinds of disasters, need to realize that voting for the right people can prevent this. Politicians who have a history of promoting “green legislation” are the individuals likely to put a stop to this kind of legitimate corruption.

Monsanto and GMOs

I would like to talk about an issue that is often talked about those promoting sustainability; Monstanto. More specifically I would like to discuss their use of GMOs and the controversy that surrounds them. I hold an opinion that many in my field would likely disagree with. Personally I have absolutely no issues with the use of GMOs and I feel that labelling GMOs in food would not improve anyones health or make any difference. There are people that say that the use of GMOs is detrimental to human health and they should be labeled or avoided altogether. However, there is no conclusive evidence that supports the claim that genetically modified food is dangerous for consumption. The very few arguments against GMOs rely on statistics that have been debunked and the falicies are easily regocnizable to anyone who understands that correlation does not equal causation. This article, http://responsibletechnology.org/10-reasons-to-avoid-gmos/ observes the health of Americans overall since lab engineered genetically modified foods were introduced. They state that GMOs are unhealthy because, since their inception, food allergies, chronic illnesses, and reproductive diseases have increased. However there is zero evidence to support this claim.

Humans have been genetically modifying foods for 10,000 years using selective breeding. It wasn’t until the 1980‘s and 90‘s that GMOs recieved criticism. The only difference was that they could now be genetically modified in a lab. The fact is that 70% of all food in the United States contains some form of GMO and even more have been previously artificially cultivated. The anti GMO movement is on par with the anti vaxer movement. They cling to arguments and statistics that have been debunked and refuse to accept the evidence out of fear of something not fully understood. Monsanto is a dispicable organazation whose aggresive and often immoral business practices have destroyed more than a few lives. Their use of pesticides and herbicides are what is truly detrimental to the health of humans and the environment. However if there is one thing they should not be under fire for it is their use of GMOs.

The Importance of Politics

 

It will always astound and amaze me when someone, who is entering the field of environmental science or sustainability, tells me they have absolutely no interest in politics and would never get involved in it. It shocks me just how many people in my own field have told me this. I’ve heard that it’s useless and tedious and it won’t affect them anyway so why bother. Right? What these people fail to realize is that politics affects everyone and everything around them. What is currently happening within the political spectrum affects these people in the sustainability field more than ever. Now more than ever, it’s important to realize that sustainability and politics need to go hand in hand.

Grassroots movements across this planet are important in changing the perception that individuals have on our changing planet. Small scale efforts can sway an entire generation and really have an impact on a local environment. However, these local efforts can only do so much. It comes to a point where action needs to be taken on a larger scale; on the national and international level. Putting the right people in office can have a greater positive effect on this planet than any local or grassroots movement. When we pair sustainability and politics we start to see regulations put in place to limit the harmful effects of large corporations and their subsidiaries. We start to see a transition from importing fossil fuels to funding more renewable energy sources. We start to see pressure being places the governments of the world who have an astonishingly large carbon footprint.

If we simply turn a blind eye to politics we are allowing unsustainable practices to continue, and no amount of small scale changes are going to be able to correct it. We see it in recent environmental disasters such as the BP oil spill and the Fukushima meltdown. It is imperative that we not allow events like that to happen again. And the only way to ensure that is to implement sustainable practices on a larger scale. I strongly urge those who would like to see this planet thrive, to no longer see politics as a nuisance, but as a useful and necessary tool. Our generation yields one of the largest turnouts in newly registered voters. We need to make sure that we use the political system to our advantage and put the right people in the right places to enact change that will actually make a difference.