Combatting Climate Change
By Spencer Klink
The United States needs a renewed commitment to renewable energy.
Despite reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change supporting the hypothesis that climate change is anthropogenic and occurring at abnormal and dangerous rates, politicians continue to undermine efforts directed toward climate adaptation and security. This is justified by the claim that economics ought to take precedence over global well-being. One example of this is President Donald Trump’s 2017 withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, an international treaty promoting global reductions in climate change.
Climate change is both the product of individual behaviors and structural flaws around the world. At the individual level, America’s excessively large carbon footprint is the result of a culture centered around consumption, demanding the use of the most efficient yet also most devastating energy sources such as oil. At the structural level, pro-business lobbying gives environmentally destructive industries a chokehold over American political reform, which influences the country’s culture to become one of overconsumption and makes it difficult for policies to overcome those norms.
The impact of this problem is unequally distributed among socioeconomic groups , which is what makes climate change particularly harmful.
According to a 2018 bombshell report published by the federal government, poor communities see the greatest exposure to the climate and extreme environmental shifts, which often results in their endangerment since they lack access to healthcare, resources and information outlining and combating the health risks associated with climate change such as bacterial infection or heat stroke.
This unequal distribution of climate change’s impact has already occurred in places such as Flint, Mich., where years of industrial activity have rendered the city’s only source of water unusable since it is now filled with lead, or Newark, N.J., where one in four children now suffer from asthma as a result of intense air pollution. Unfortunately, little has been done to give redress to these cities, which have primarily black populations, due to persisting issues of racism and classism.
Looking beyond the United States, the inequality inherent in climate change becomes even more apparent. A study published in Environmental Research Levels, a scientific journal, explains that climate change makes the lives of disadvantaged populations unsustainable in a number of ways. The increased frequency of extreme weather events such as hurricanes threatens poor families first and foremost since they have worse infrastructure. Additionally, rising sea levels and ocean acidification kill wildlife that impoverished families often rely on for food and forces them to move from coastal regions.
Women of color in the Global South face the most extreme form of this marginalization, as they have the least amount of access to infrastructure and resources, according to research conducted at Georgetown University.
The obvious question is how renewable energy would effectively solve these problems, given how all-encompassing climate change is. The short answer: it doesn’t. However, a commitment to renewable energy would establish a sound starting point in the battle against climate change, representing a shift in favor of the safety of people over economics.
A shift toward renewables does not entail the use of hydraulic fracturing, which is touted as a more environmentally sound energy source, but is in reality contaminating water sources and causing earthquakes near indigenous communities, according to studies conducted by the EPA and Stanford University. This also does not entail the use of nuclear power, which produces radioactive waste devastating the environment as demonstrated by accidents like the meltdown of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant.
Instead, a transition to renewable technology requires shifting away from oil and gas to truly sustainable technology like solar or wind power. A different study conducted by Stanford University found that completely phasing out non-renewable energy in favor of renewable technology is possible by 2030. The only barriers to such a solution are the cultural and structural issues demanding overconsumption, but continued demand from the people can make this goal into a reality.
This transition to renewable energy would be beneficial in a number of ways. Although it would benefit the environment in more obvious ways by preserving the Earth’s finite resources and minimizing carbon emissions, it would also have a number of cultural benefits that come along with it. In using a more decentralized energy source, wealthier American citizens would be forced to confront their energy usage habits since there isn’t a seemingly endless source of energy at their disposal. This would ensure that the cultural values of consumption allowing for the problem of climate change to proliferate in the first place aren’t repeated.
Although the fight against climate change may seem like a useless struggle, in reality, it is a winnable and necessary battle to fight. The future of many disadvantaged communities is at stake, so surrendering hope does nothing but cede the future to corporations that have no vested interest in public safety.