Climate the United States, the average citizen assumes
Climate change and global warming will pose the greatest challenge to human civilization over the next century. As developed countries continue to increase production and expansion across the globe, resource depletion and global warming are inevitable. Avoiding these threats will require a previously unseen level of international cooperation, as state and national borders cannot divide environmental issues. Inequality between expanding superpowers and underdeveloped nations is an important issue as it is related to the many problems that hinder such cooperation.Because there are so many nations who are different both culturally and economically, organization of resources and efforts will certainly be challenging. At the root of the problem of resource depletion is wealthy nations living beyond their means.
These nations have enjoyed “a century or more of burning coal, oil and the other fossil fuels that underlie their mobile, industrial, climate-controlled way of life” (Revkin). In societies like the United States, the average citizen assumes the ability to drive a car to work and to warm their homes during the winter.In the 1960’s, economists and researchers did several studies to investigate the possibility of scarcity of resources. Many found that “it seemed that technical innovations and resource substitutions, driven by market incentives, had and would continue indefinitely to solve the longer-term issues” (Hall & Day). As the United States enjoyed relative economic prosperity in the following decades with low gasoline prices, a strong dependence on a scarce resource was created.Fast-forward to today, and many developed nations have built their economies in the same way, maximizing production and consuming more than their share of limited resources. This explains why many climate experts insist that wealthy nations in the first world “owe the third world a climate debt” (Revkin).
In the search for international cooperation on the issue of resource depletion, this inequality of consumption makes taking unified action much more difficult.Smaller, less-developed nations did not over consume, so why should they be obligated to help those wealthy nations who lived beyond their means? Another related problem is that less-developed nations are at a much higher risk due to the climate change projected in the next few decades. Conversely, “the countries that face the least harm – and that are best equipped to deal with the harm they do face – tend to be the richest” (Revkin). Smaller countries that are less developed also depend on agriculture much more than industrialized nations like the United States and Japan.This fact contributes further to the belief that rich nations should step up and pay for climate reform, so that poor nations do not suffer the consequences of someone else’s irresponsibility. These two problems generate a great amount of tension between nations as they try to cooperate with one another on a global scale.
One of the most significant hindrances to global cooperation on climate control is that no single nation wants to step up and take the lead. Developed nations like the United States already have huge debt burdens, and no one is looking to increase it.Among others, George Dvorsky cites this nation-state selfishness as one of the reasons the Copenhagen Climate Conference failed in 2009. He writes, “Instead of proactively and with leadership, many nations (particularly those in the developed world) are ‘aligning’ themselves with what other countries are doing… And seeing as no one is doing anything… well, there you have it” (Dvorsky). Because of this alignment of inaction on the topic of climate change, leaders of developed countries (the only countries that have the power to make a difference on the global scale) passively watch the planet melt away.
Furthering this problem is a general focus on short-term economic benefits, rather than proactively tackling the long-term effects of global warming. In today’s global economy, capitalists have made solid profits by building production factories in a less-developed nation. Unburdened by environmental and labor regulations, it is easy for global capitalists to turn a quick dollar despite the enormous carbon footprint and tons of pollution they leave behind. The loose threat of global warming is not enough to scare greedy adventure capitalists away from high profit margins.
David Singer discusses this problem in a chapter from his book entitled, One Atmosphere: “But as we have seen, the present laissez-faire system allows emitters to reap economic benefits for themselves, while imposing costs on third parties who may or may not share in the benefits of the polluters’ high productivity. That is neither a fair nor an efficient outcome” (Singer). While these problems make legislation and communication difficult, the most significant hindrance to international cooperation is isolationist China.Because of China’s exponential population growth and sharp increase in mass production, they have become one of the world’s largest superpowers. In the process, they have increased their global carbon footprint substantially, a 109% increase from 1990 to 2004 (Human Development Report). They now sit second in the rankings of carbon emissions, behind only the United States. However, the reason China poses the greatest threat to global cooperation is their independent approach.
They have isolated themselves from other nations, making it extremely difficult to communicate and figure out a global plan for the future. One author summarized this threat well, writing, “This unilateral approach is particularly disturbing considering that they China are the largest manufacturing state in the world and house a massive population that will soon start to demand first-world standards of living” (Dvorsky). Furthermore, there are other problems that may arise even if a global plan for this global issue can ever be decided on.The addiction of developed nations (specifically the United States) to oil and oil-based production has created a society and an infrastructure that completely revolves around the use of oil and fossil fuels. Therefore, any change in the use of these resources would have an enormous effect on the American lifestyle, a change that will not be favorably received. Even if new policies were put in place, governments and leaders would have to motivate millions of citizens to obey the new restrictions on how much an individual can omit.
Unless governments want to spend millions of dollars to create a new type of environmental enforcement agency, who is to say that wealthy Americans can’t continue to drive gas-guzzling Trucks and SUV’s? Finally, in addition to its involvement in most of these problems, inequality between developed and underdeveloped nations makes the possibility of a fair global reform system seem very slim. In deciding which nations are most responsible for global warming and resource depletion, legislators and scientists need to weigh the factors of a nation’s size, history, wars, technology, leaders and more.Even if they are successful in coming up with such an ordered list, an overall plan would need to be agreed upon by all parties, and then the price each nation would have to pay still needs to be quantified. When Clearly, this is a convoluted and multistep problem that faces the world today.
Unfortunately, global cooperation on the issue of climate change could take decades to accomplish, and judging by the melting ice caps and rising water levels, there doesn’t seem to be much time left.