Rising Tides

The United States’ evolution as a primary advocate for global extinction

A publication of a report by the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted the ever more palpable threat of the Earth’s climate reaching unstable levels. It outlined the effects of changing temperatures that are expected to be seen as soon as 2040.

The findings of the report, issued on October 8 by a panel of 91 scientists from 40 different countries, predicts the future of the planet’s climate if global temperatures were to rise 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit from current temperatures. The 2015 Paris Agreement stipulates that this threshold should not be surpassed, lest irreversible effects to the climate occur. Given the current track record of the world’s top carbon-emitting countries (the US ranks second only to China, followed by India and Russia), the report describes a possible future where extreme weather events and biological disasters have become standard.

The United States has historically approached climate change counterintuitively, lagging behind other countries that are willing to lead efforts in combating environmental destruction. This year has been no different. It has been nearly a year and a half since President Trump announced the US’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, on top of his previous rollbacks of regulations on coal and oil industry. However, despite the resignation of Scott Pruitt, Trump’s anti-environmentalist head of the EPA, there have been no signs that the administration is slowing its attempts to purge an eco-friendly agenda from all branches of the government. Last Friday, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts put a halt on the trial Juliana v. United States. This case was brought by a group of young activists from Eugene, OR who claim that the federal government’s current energy policy is unconstitutional because it violates the “public trust doctrine,” a common-law principle in American jurisprudence that holds the government responsible for protecting public lands. The plaintiffs allege that these public lands are being neglected by a lack of legislation that calls for the reduction of CO2 emissions. Now, with the newly-confirmed Kavanaugh occupying a seat on the Supreme Court bench, it’s expected that case will be struck down given his history of opposing environmental regulation.

Reed biology professor Sam Fey, whose research covers environmental variation and its effects on ecosystems, noted that “the potential for changes that threaten the fundamental ecosystems services provided to humans by ecosystems” could have “difficult to predict, but potentially large-scale destabilizing effects.”

“The policy measures required to address this topic, and the time horizon to see any benefits, doesn’t map on to our short election cycles,” Fey said. “To make matters worse, climate change itself is now among the most politically charged topics in the U.S., which generally precludes a rational discussion of this topic in Washington.”

Despite the partisanship that divides the country on what should be a clear-cut issue, a sliver of hope remains. While the Paris Agreement and the IPCC report overlap in their concerns about environmental security, the IPCC focuses on the consequences if absolutely no change was to be made in the coming years. A fundamental condition of the Paris Agreement is that its signatories pledged to remain affiliated until 2020 — even the United States. Since 2020 also coincides with a presidential election year in America, a newly elected president could theoretically return to the agreement if they wished. Even sooner, the U.S. electorate now wavers between a blue and red majority at the precipice of midterm elections, where more is at stake than political games and partisanship. There exists an opportunity to affect real change in the planet’s future, and a last major chance at establishing a means of preserving the environment.

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