Global Warming and The United States-
“For a really generous response to the problem of inundations in the Indian Ocean, Americans could climb out of their SUVs" (1).
The United States makes up 4% of the world’s population. It contributes 25% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Hmmm, something about this seems odd, wouldn’t you agree? Some Americans do agree and have become aware of how the U.S. contributes to global warming. In 2002, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a 268-page report known as the “Climate Action Report 2002” that acknowledged for the first time that manmade pollution is the largest contributor to global warming. This report was significant in that global warming was declared as a serious issue and that it is directly related to the actions of all citizens. However, efforts had been made to curb global warming years before the report. In 1997, the United Nations formulated the Kyoto Protocol, with the objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a global level. For a detailed explanation of the Kyoto Protocol, CLICK HERE.
Some other facts about U.S. contribution to global warming:
By signing the Protocol, a country shows they are committed to a certain rate of greenhouse gas emission change (usually ranging from 0%-8%). While the United States signed the Protocol on November 12, 1998, it did not come without contest. On July 25, 1997, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, which stated that the U.S. should not sign any protocol that did not include regulation of developing countries or would cause possible harm to the U.S. economy. Although Vice President Al Gore would later sign the Protocol, it was never submitted to the Senate for ratification during the Clinton administration, as financial issues with the Protocol overshadowed the possible global benefits. Currently, economics continue to keep the Protocol out of the Senate. President Bush has said he does not intend to submit the Kyoto Protocol for possible ratification, based on the following issues: the exemption of China, the distinctions made between “developed” and “developing” countries, and the economic hardships he feels would occur in the U.S. Bush has said of the Protocol, “…America’s unwillingness to embrace a flawed treaty should not be read by our friends and neighbors as any abdication of responsibility. To the contrary, my administration is committed to a leadership role on the issue of climate change” (3).
However, by looking at the United States’ continued role in the increase of greenhouse gas emissions, it is hard to see how the U.S. is doing very well in that “leadership role”. According to data from the Energy Department, the emission of greenhouse gases in the U.S. increased by 2% from the previous year (6.98 million metric tons in 2004 to 7.12 million metric tons in 2005). The Department went on to predict that by 2012 U.S. emissions would have increased by 25% from 1990 (they have already increased 16% since that year). While the U.S. is certainly not the only contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming (for example, China and Japan have encountered criticism as their countries have become more industrialized), representing 25% of the world’s emission total when the U.S. only accounts for 4% of the world’s population is obviously a little imbalanced. So why aren’t more changes being made to decrease the U.S.’s contribution to global climate change?
Citizens In Action
Global Warming Goes Before the Court
In an unprecedented step toward fighting greenhouse gas emissions, Friends of the Earth (FoE), Greenpeace, and the city of Boulder, Colorado filed a lawsuit against two U.S. government agencies. The Export Import Bank (ExIm) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) were charged with illegally providing over $32 billion to the construction of oil fields, pipelines, and power plants without assessing their effect on the environment. Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), all federal agencies are required to conduct assessments on the potential environ-mental impact of their programs and products before enacting them. According to the lawsuit, ExIm and OPIC failed to cooperate with the NEPA and knowingly caused environ-mental damage. This case represents that Americans are becoming more aware of how human action effects the world, as well as how they can fight back.
Although reports such as the “Climate Action Report 2002” have been continually showing the threat global warming presents, the U.S. has done little to change on a national level. Many believe this has something to do with the support President Bush has shown for the motor, oil, and electricity industries (typically, these industries have been resistant to the idea that the by-products of their practices increase global warming). In fact, the Exxon Corporation donated $1.2 million to President Bush’s 2001 presidential campaign, making it the second-highest industrial contributor. Several other similar corporations donated large sums of money, collectively totaling almost $1.3 million dollars. Since Bush has been in office, he has encountered criticism over his policies on energy usage and its environmental impacts (his proposal to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska became a hotly contested topic). Interestingly, Bush’s home state of Texas is the #1 emitter of greenhouse gases in the U.S-not typically a fact you would find in your average atlas. With all of the negative links between the U.S. and global warming, a very grim picture of the nation is painted. However, some American citizens have taken action to effect global climate in a positive way. Although the U.S. has never brought the Kyoto Protocol up for ratification, several states, towns, and communities have taken the Protocol into their own hands. Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Massachusetts participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a state-level program to cut down on emissions (Pennsylvania, Maryland, District of Columbia, and some Eastern Canadian Provinces observe the RGGI, but do not adhere to all of its mandates). City-level initiatives are also in action, with major cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston participating in Kyoto-like programs. The steps taken in these locations will hopefully become commonplace as more U.S. citizens are taking steps toward positive global change. However, without national support the goal of significantly reducing U.S. emissions cannot be realized. As the threat of global warming becomes more and more apparent, the role that the U.S. government plays becomes crucial.
1.Roodman, David. "How Much Does the U.S. Help?" Center for Global Development. 07 Jan. 2005. 19 Jan. 2007 <http://www.cgdev.org/content/opinion/detail/2959/>.
2. Woolf, Marie, and Colin Brown. "Beckett Exposes G8 Rift on Global Warming." 13 June 2005. Independent/UK. 18 Jan. 2007 <http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/0613-02.htm>.
3. "Kyoto Protocol." Wikipedia. 23 Mar. 2007. 20 Jan. 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyoto_Protocol>.