With the Paris Climate Change Conference in the news and unseasonable weather in New England this fall, it's not a wonder that many people are thinking about what the future holds for their children.
While the politicians argue about the science and scrap over what needs to be done to curb greenhouse gas emissions, most people around the world and in the United States believe something needs to be done ... and soon. A New York Times and CBS poll released earlier this week notes that 63 percent of Americans favor limits on carbon emissions. According to the New York Times/CBS poll about 55 percent of respondents said they are willing to pay more for electricity if it were generated by renewable sources like solar or wind energy. And a recent Pew Research Center poll across 40 countries found that 78 percent of respondents "support the idea of their country limiting greenhouse gas emissions as part of an international agreement in Paris."
Those poll results don't hold much sway in the Republican Party. "It would obviously be irresponsible for an outgoing president to purport to sign the American people up to international commitments based on a domestic energy plan that is likely illegal," wrote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a recent Washington Post op-ed. He went on to say that international negotiating partners in Paris "should proceed with caution before entering into an unattainable deal with this administration." (Sounds oddly familiar to the semi-treasonous statements made by some Republicans in regards to the Iran nuclear deal.)
Meanwhile, nations such as China and India are reeling from their own energy usage today, and not 100 years from now, when, if we continue along this path, sea levels will inundate much of their coastal areas. In China, one man literally vacuumed the air in Beijing four hours a day for 100 days and made a brick out of the particulates he collected.
This week, pollution levels in the Chinese capital soared to levels 40 times higher than those deemed safe by the World Health Organization. Scientists claim China's air pollution kills up to 4,000 people a day, mostly from heart and lung problems and strokes.
Most of those particulates are a result of burning coal to supply China's people and its industries with electricity, and much of that coal is mined in the United States. While the U.S. is reducing its reliance on coal, mines in 24 states ship it to 76 countries around the world. If not for the Clean Air Act, passed in 1973, the United States today might be suffering from the same fate as China. And don't be fooled into thinking that none of China's pollution is carried on the winds to America.
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that global warming emissions are air pollutants that can be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is now moving forward in reducing global warming pollution from power plants, cars, trucks, and other large industrial polluters. But, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the EPA and the Clean Air Act have been under attack by the energy industry and its puppets in Congress. "These attacks on the Clean Air Act pose a grave threat to EPA's responsibility to protect our health and environment from the impacts of climate change. Some proposed legislation would delay the EPA from setting standards to limit global warming emissions for several years, while other bills would indefinitely block the EPA from taking any action to reduce global warming emissions whatsoever. Some proposals would prohibit the EPA from doing any research or analysis on climate science in its efforts to implement the endangerment finding."
In February 2011, UCS submitted a letter to Congress signed by hundreds of scientists in the United States. "The scientific evidence overwhelmingly suggests that climate change poses a clear threat to public health ... if heat-trapping emissions continue unabated, global warming is likely to cause more extreme heat in our cities, severe water shortages, loss of species, hazards to coasts from sea level rise, and extreme weather. The economic and social costs of such impacts are potentially calamitous."
While we are keeping a close eye on the progress of the talks in Paris this week, we don't hold out much hope that anything concrete will result that will significantly reduce the humanity's impact on the very ecosystem that supports its survival. We would like to be pleasantly surprised if something substantial comes out of the Paris talks, but we aren't holding our breath. Though maybe we should.