The Politics of Climate Change

by Daniel Siegel ‘22, Milton Academy

What are your basic needs? Most people would say things like food, water, shelter, and health. For us students, there aren’t many things that would threaten these basic needs in the short term. In terms of making purchases, perhaps the only significant limiting factor that we think about is money. We seldom think about how the things that we buy get to the stores that we visit. Soon, however, we may have to start thinking about this, as climate disruption is threatening the things we use and take for granted every day. Around the world, climate disruption impacts key natural resources which we need. The heat strokes, droughts, and flooding that are caused by climate disruption lower crop yields every year. In areas that were struggling before, climate disruption will cause more difficulties. Studies show that yields will decrease by about 35% in Africa by 2050, thus disrupting  our food security by decreasing the availability of food. (1) (For us, this means 35% less food on the shelves of our grocery stores.)

As our Earth warms, there will also be changes in water cycles, with excessive droughts and long periods of rainfall. These droughts put a limit on the water that communities can use, and the long periods of rainfall contaminate the water. Also, since the earth is warming, there is more of a need for water in terms of individuals, agriculture, and industry. This will require us to transport even more water, which we don’t have, to even more places. Finally, the rising sea levels actually harm our water supply, as salt water gets pushed into freshwater aquifers and contaminate it so that it is not fit to drink.

Climate disruption threatens key necessities to live a healthy life. It impacts things such as clean air, safe drinking water, food, and shelter. Natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis are caused by climate disruption. Heat strokes and temperature related deaths are consequences of climate disruption as well. Temperature related deaths are unique because they can affect all of us, not just people living in extremely hot or cold areas. Warming water also causes more water-borne diseases and mosquito-borne diseases. Children and seniors are most affected by these. Natural disasters not only affect our health, but they also affect our shelter. It is evident that more hurricanes and tropical storms have been occuring in the past years; this is due to climate disruption. Caused by Hurricane Maria last year, there are still billions of dollars worth of damage that still need to be fixed. Just recently, after almost a year, most of the island’s power was restored.

The fact that these resources are being threatened by climate disruption proves that it is necessary to have one international set of policies addressing possible harms to our food, water, shelter, and health. There have been many attempts to create international coalitions regarding this matter such as the Paris Climate Accord, the Bangkok Meetings, and the Doha Amendment. Unfortunately, none of these are binding documents. Once these are ratified, any country can pull out with few significant consequences. There is absolutely no incentive, other than protecting the world, to remain in these agreements. This is why we, as a global community, need a binding, international document which puts limits on human activities which release greenhouse gasses. Unlike other documents, there must be political ramifications for not signing this document or not adhering to its terms. Climate disruption must be a priority among all countries, so we must take drastic measures to cement it into international politics and discussion. Since the United States exited the Paris Climate Accord on June 1st, 2017, subnational groups have stepped up to take charge. For example, in September of 2018, the city of San Francisco hosted the Global Climate Action Summit. (2) The summit was the platform for many different pledges from all sectors of the world such as businesses, municipalities, and individuals. These pledges included announcements and plans for zero-waste cities and zero-emission buildings. Critics of this say that these are not significant enough to counteract Trump’s inaction. Studies actually demonstrate that these pledges would mitigate a large amount of carbon. By 2030, these policies are predicted to save 1.5-2.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide. This would have a huge positive impact on the environment.

One main obstacle of creating climate disruption legislation is that not all people actually believe the research and facts about it. Prominent political figures such as the President of the United States have denied climate research, calling it a “hoax.” Statements such as these are harmful to our environment. They undermine trust in basic scientific facts . Because our President says that climate disruption is fake, then it must be true, right? This is the logic of many Americans, believing everything that authority says to be true.

Fortunately, other countries have managed to tackle issues related to climate disruption in impressive ways. For example, India has been fighting climate disruption while simultaneously increasing food and energy security and addressing rural poverty. They have installed household and community biogas units to power clean-burning methane stoves, replaced old wood burning stoves, provided solar lighting, and promoted scientifically and economically sound climate-smart farming techniques. China is the world’s number one polluter regarding carbon dioxide. Despite this, they recently unveiled a new plan to curb carbon dioxide emissions. They will start a giant market to trade credits for the actual rights to carbon dioxide. If Egypt has taken preemptive steps to combat natural disasters and rising sea levels. They created a plan, available online, to help protect citizens from the events listed above which are caused by climate disruption.

The need for an international collaborative document to curb and combat the effects of climate disruption is more evident now than ever. We see the storms, rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and natural disasters happening. These are all caused by us. The global community must create new norms and standards to change the trajectory of this world. We need to act quickly and effectively to create a new international policy regarding climate disruption.

Sources:

(1) Pimentel, David. “Climate Changes and Food Supply.” CLIMATE EFFECTS ON HUMAN HEALTH, CIESIN, 1993, www.ciesin.org/docs/004-138/004-138.html.

(2) Hsu, Angel, and Amy Weinfurter. “All Climate Politics Is Local.” Foreign Affairs, Council on Foreign Relations, 24 Sept. 2018, www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2018-09-24/all-climate-politics-local.

(3) “India: Development while fighting climate change.” Environmental Defense Fund, EDF, https://www.edf.org/climate/india-development-while-fighting-climate-change.

(4) Cabinet, Egyptian. “Egypt’s National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change And Disaster Risk Reduction .” Climasouth, UNDP, 2018, www.climasouth.eu/docs/Adaptation011%20StrategyEgypt.pdf.