This month any doubt that man is to blame for climate change was shattered when scientists found that carbon dioxide (CO2) has reached its highest concentration in three million years – since before humans evolved. The data also showed a conspicuous spike in CO2 at the tail end of the 19th century – when the Industrial Revolution had already been kicked into high gear.
Global emissions may be increasing, but last year the United States’ CO2 levels fell to a 20-year low due to the rise of cheap and abundant natural gas, which has led many power plants to turn away from coal. Much of this progress also can be attributed to President Obama’s sustainability policies, which include reducing pollution from cars and light trucks, curbing harmful emissions from power plants, adopting a broad strategy for managing the nation’s ocean waters and supporting renewable energy development, among others.
So, why does the planet’s temperature gauge continue to spike?
This is due to the fact that global warming is indeed global. While the U.S. is at least heading in the general direction of a more sustainable future, the economies of developing nations like China and India are growing exponentially – and with little concern for the environment. China alone is responsible for some 25 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions.
Granted, India and China are only following in the West’s industrial footsteps. From the end of the 19th century through most of the 20th, the U.S. and Europe blazed a wide trail from agrarian to industrial and eventually to post-industrial economies – leaving environmental devastation in their wake. It would be a little hypocritical for the West to now start pointing fingers.
But the consequences of climate change are too severe for us to remain deadlocked in a blame game – the world must come together to solve this challenge. Until further notice, the U.S., China, India and everyone else on this rock will thrive or fall based on our actions or inactions.
To achieve this, the world’s two largest CO2 culprits – the U.S. and China – must step up as global leaders to address the global warming threat. While many in the media continue to paint a picture of climate change being a stiff political issue, a recent study by Yale and George Mason University found that nearly 80 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents support increasing renewable energy use and more than 60 percent believe the United States should take action to address climate change.
In a fortunate turn of events for the planet, China recently proposed for the first time to set a 2016 ceiling on its CO2 emissions.
“This is a big shift in China’s position and should unblock the standoff between the US and China in the global climate change negotiations,” said Doug Parr, Greenpeace’s chief scientist. “Without an agreement between these two major players it is hard to see how an agreement can be reached in 2015.”
While several countries have adopted an official goal to limit climate change damage, the U.S. and China have resisted taking on binding national targets, claiming they would harm economic growth. At the same time, scientists warn that if widespread collective and committed action is not taken soon, countering global warming will become near impossible without serious economic disruption.
What the U.S. and China (and the rest of the world) must realize is that taking steps to a more sustainable future does not have to come at the economy’s expense. A recent study by investor advocacy group Ceres found energy efficiency could be a multi-hundred-billion dollar investment opportunity in the United States alone. Electric car company Tesla recently posted its first quarterly profit in its 10-year history. Several other technological breakthroughs are making dirty fuels and planet-killing materials obsolete.
Climate change could well be the greatest threat humans have ever faced – it is time we started treating it as such.
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