NPS Climate Change Response

World News


Isn’t Climate Change Already Scary Enough?

A few months back I wrote about how U.S. presidential candidates are referring to climate change more often. The problem is, as I see it from outside the U.S., there is very little understanding of what climate change means.

“It’s going to warm up!” seems to be the extent of it. Some places will have issues, some places could be pleasant. What are just a few degrees?

The murky predictions also have a vague kind of timeline. On the one hand, there’s the idea: “It’s already happening,” and on the other hand “this issue is too far ahead to worry about, leave it to the scientists.” And there’s a third point of view even more prevalent than these, which is complete disinterest.

If someone actually thinks through the issue, and the potential results, they might be activated. But if you hear about this problem and trust the media to weigh in then you may have a problem. The media will tell you about this problem but they will tell you about many other issues and they won’t differentiate between the interesting and the catastrophic. If it is an important enough issue there could be a debate but the effect of that is to agree to measure it by political polling.

That politicization not only reshapes the issue into one item on a political to-do list, but it also captures the issue making it difficult to have a conversation that can expose the issue and reveal the real and attendant dangers.

What about blame? There is something very obvious about climate change. It’s global. Excess emissions in Illinois don’t heat up Illinois. They are a small input into a process that is heating up the whole world. On the one hand that makes things slightly less uncomfortable. The equation seems to hold much less culpability. But this is a false narrative and if so who is to blame?

China leads international emissions with the United States as second. So is China the most guilty in rising global temperatures? There’s a good argument that says China has 1.386 billion people and the United States, which is second in emissions, has 329 million people. On a per-capita basis then the U.S. has more of an effect. What happens when seawater levels in Douala rise and people in low lying areas have to move. It’s not Cameroon’s fault, is it? They only contribute 0.19 to the world emissions calculation but they will receive the full brunt of the result.

Won’t the people of Cameroon who have to move to higher ground be angry with China and the United States? Aren’t they correct to feel wronged? One can imagine that this kind of finger-pointing and blaming could become quite divisive. It seems the developed world is not only richer and has gathered more resources but they have effectively created a world where the rich are drawing developing countries into an ever more dangerous situation. The developed world reaps the benefit, the poorer half pay the bill. And no one chooses to understand the situation until it is too late to change.

It seems the world community is on the threshold right now. There is enough information to understand the situation. China is struggling to grow and whose population is benefiting but less noticeably because it is spread across so many people. The key country to bring these realities to the world’s attention is the United States. Their people have taken the greatest benefit and they claim to have the highest moral standards.

Climate change isn’t a secondary issue on a four-year agenda. It’s a world-changing crisis just appearing on the horizon. Can the United States provide the leadership the world needs?