Climate Change: We Live in the Shadow of the Future – Paige Moeller

Each nation has its own agenda. More often than not, climate change is not on the priority list for each nation. The tangible incentives to effectively handle climate change are not apparent to all nations, especially the nations with the largest emissions such as the United States. In addition, the uncertainty in climate change leads the developing nations to be reluctant to change their measures due to the high costs of emission control. With neither the global powers nor the rising powers taking action to effectively tackle climate change, humanity is running down the clock.

According to the leaked report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, costs that could potentially save the planet from a significant food shortage due to climate change would be incurred much faster than the benefits to be reaped. Joshua Tucker for the Washington Post argues that this is a major part of the problem in creating effective measures to combat climate change on both the domestic and international level. The people that are more politically influential, he argues, are those that will be around to incur the costs of emission control but not reap the benefits. Because most people function based on cost-benefit analysis, these older, more influential members of society are less inclined to follow the climate change bandwagon and create substantial, effective changes. An example of resistance to take on these world-saving measures are found in India and China. These two nations have been increasing their energy efficiency in the past few years, but are reluctant to sign any legally binding treaty to force them to do so. Just like many other nations, this stems from the uncertainty that the future benefits will be worth the economic risk. They will not have tangible benefits for decades, thus lowering their inclination to take the costly risk.

Another issue is that although climate change is a global problem, the problem itself stems from a select number of emitters that contribute to the total gas emissions. According to Victor’s data, “the top six emitters (counting the EU as a single emitter) account for 64% of the world emissions of CO2 from burning fossil fuels… Gaining another ten percent of emissions requires adding another 10 countries.” If one attributes climate change to CO2 emissions like many scientists do, then there is a clear reasoning to believe that these top six are contributing the most to climate change. However, in limiting an international institution to these member states might not be effective either in creating legitimacy for the institution. This creates an issue that is seen in most international environmental agreements: although there are many signatories on these agreements, the institutions themselves are ineffective and only provide for symbolic commitment to environmental issues with no means of enforcement. According to Victor, a reason for this among liberal democracies is that “governments are constantly on the prowl for actions that have low short-term costs and high symbolic value.” Nations tend to sign on to agreements that include measures they have already taken. Therefore, they can look like they have made a change while in reality they continue their previous actions because technically they had already taken the measures.

Climate change is a global issue. Just because we cannot feel the total effects of it now does not mean that we will not feel it down the road, be it a century or more. The shadow of the future when dealing with the environment is always present. We cannot restart the Earth. The incentive to live and for future generations to live is apparently not enough when it comes to the cost-benefit analysis that nations do with their environmental policies, but it should. On the domestic level, it is important for the people of the nations to care, like in the Northern European countries, because their governments are their agents. Emissions need to be cut in the next few decades or humanity will suffer severe consequences. Through domestic channels, the people can influence their governments which can, in turn, influence other nations around the world. This is a global problem, but the solution resides in the domestic spheres.


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