America's climate change conclusion

America's climate change conclusion
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America’s climate change conclusion appears clear: It’s time to face the facts and end the country’s self-deception about its paltry climate change efforts. For America, the climate change conclusion is a continuation of business as usual with few changes that will effectively mitigate climate change.  

The science is unequivocal, extensively acknowledged and widely supported. Climate change is the defining crisis of our time.

In brief, an increase in the global temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average and environmental degradation risk catastrophic harm to the health of the planet that will be impossible to reverse. Only fundamental changes to societies, especially the nations contributing most to the production of carbon emissions, will reverse the current catastrophic trajectory of global warming and environmental deterioration. 

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Despite the scientific facts, most Americans do not believe they will be personally affected by global warming. In only California and Hawaii do a majority of people say they feel that they will be personally affected by global warming. In the other 48 U.S. states, most don’t believe that they personally will suffer global warming’s ill effects.

In addition, 25 percent of the House of Representatives and 30 percent of the Senate refuse to acknowledge the scientific evidence of human-caused climate change. Prominent media outlets and oil, coal and gas industries also continue to promote climate change disinformation, misleading messages and denials. Others question the enormous costs to address climate change and some want to roll back plans to curb emissions. 

Americans, especially elected officials, are not willing to make the changes in the nation’s lifestyles and policies, especially curbing fossil fuel use, that are required to effectively address climate change and environmental degradation. Also, over the years the frequent use of words such as “crisis” and “emergency” when referring to climate change has lost their meaning.

As has been vividly demonstrated in America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in nearly 700,000 COVID-19 deaths, many Americans and officials are unlikely to act collectively and responsibly to address climate change.

In the absence of some kind of enforcement mechanism applicable to all nations, America’s response to climate change is not surprising. Other major contributors to greenhouse emissions, such as China, India and Russia, are not prepared to change their policies to address climate change, especially regarding the use of fossil fuels. Those governments have decided to prioritize their economies over preventing climate change for the world. 

The dominant view in America, as well as among most countries, is economic growth is dependent on continued population growth. Worldwide social, economic, political, business and cultural interests resist population stabilization, and advocate increased population growth, bemoan demographic slowdowns and warn of population collapses.

The world’s largest population, China with 1.4 billion people and concerned about its recent demographic slowdown, has adopted a three-child policy aimed at raising its birth rate. India, which is expected to be more populous than China by 2027, is projected to reach 1.6 billion by 2050.

America is also not willing to stabilize its population of 333 million, which has gained 50 million since the start of the century. By around the midcentury, the country’s population is expected to reach  400 million and continue growing largely due to immigration.

Promises of action and future targets, such as producing almost half of U.S. electricity from the sun by 2050, are easy to set. However, those targets are often difficult to achieve and conveniently forgotten with the passage of time.

In addition, most of today’s elected American officials will have passed away by the target dates. The average age of U.S. senators, for example, is 64.3 years at the start of 2020, which is the oldest in U.S. history.

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Even after decades of warnings about time running out to address the challenges of climate change and environmental degradation, it remains business as usual. For instance, every single global target to restore biodiversity loss by 2020 was missed. None of the world’s major economies, including the entire G20, have a climate plan that meets their obligations under the 2015 Paris agreement, and most have failed to uphold promises to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Also, commitments and proposals for climate change actions can be easily reversed. The previous U.S. administration stepped away from the Paris Agreement. It also denounced the Green Climate Fund, an account permitting wealthy nations to assist the most vulnerable countries to adjust to climate change. 

Thousands of scientists have concluded that the future habitability of planet earth depends on immediate, large-scale action in no less than six critical and interrelated areas: energy, short-lived pollutants, nature, food, economy and population. 

However, the recommended actions, including limiting the burning of fossil fuels, restoring ecosystems, moving to plant-based diets, curtailing consumption or degrowth and stabilizing the world population, appear to have fallen on the deaf ears. Americans, as well as many others, are preoccupied with driving emission-producing cars, cutting forestspolluting and warming ocean, land and air systems, pushing for demographic growth, heating and cooling excessively, reducing biodiversity and devouring hamburgers, etc.

Is the window for America to take meaningful steps to address climate change virtually closed? Should Americans be forthright, throw in the towel on this policy problem from hell and adapt to the consequences of climate change? 

Given the country’s disappointing performance on climate change and its impotent expected trajectory for addressing climate change in the future, it appears reasonable to conclude that most Americans and their elected officials have indeed thrown in the towel and are continuing with business as usual. 

Some may view that conclusion as unhelpful, counterproductive and perhaps even defeatist. However, the rationale for such a climate change conclusion for America is like those offered by the impartial observers entrusted to provide judgments during the progress of a sports event, “I calls ’em like I sees ’em”

Joseph Chamie is an international consulting demographer, a former director of the United Nations Population Division and author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book, "Births, Deaths, Migrations and Other Important Population Matters."