Opinion Columnists Brent Dondalski and Katelyn McCarthy debate whether the US government should combat Climate Change. Dondalski argues for government action, McCarthy argues against it.
Pro: The Consequences of Doing Nothing
Climate change will destroy our planet unless the U.S. government leads an effort to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
By: Brent Dondalski
The consensus is and has been here: climate change is happening. Data from NASA shows that over ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree; the climate is warming due to human activity. Despite the rapid amount of climate change misinformation, it is essential to our survival that we take radical and decisive action against climate change in the form of government policy. If we refuse, we are consciously handing future generations a death sentence.
Above all else, it is important that we understand the facts of this crisis. One might argue that throughout Earth’s history the climate has always changed. This is true, however, these changes are attributed to small variations in Earth’s orbit around the sun over thousands of years (NASA). What we are seeing now are unprecedented changes happening over a very short amount of time. NASA explains that “there is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause Earth to warm in response.” The five hottest years recorded are 2020, 2016, 2019, 2015, and 2017 (NASA, Climate Central). Since 1880, Earth’s temperature has increased by a little more than 1°C, with two-thirds of that warming occurring since 1975 (NASA). Current climate models predict that if we continue to emit as many or more greenhouse gases, the Earth’s temperature could increase up to 4°C by 2100 (University Corporation for Atmospheric Research), and if we halved our carbon admissions from 2010-2030 by 45% we could limit warming increases to under 2°C (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). For context, the last time Earth saw a temperature change of 4°C was the most recent ice age from over a millennia ago (GreenFacts).
There’s no doubt that climate change poses a catastrophic threat to the planet and human civilization. Unfortunately, governments have failed to enact environmental policies that would slow the rate of climate change. Dating back to the Reagan administration, the US government has consistently rejected evidence of climate change and its potentially disastrous effects, largely due to pressure from the fossil fuel industry (New York Times). Reagan especially was so extremely opposed to environmental protections that it alarmed even his own party members (New York Times). Studies show that “the generation of climate misinformation persists, with arguments against climate science increasing relative to policy arguments in publications by conservative organizations” (Environmental Research Letters). The crisis and its supporting science have been relentlessly politicized and mischaracterized largely in order to benefit fossil fuel lobbyists and their associated politicians.
Understanding climate science misinformation is essential to understanding climate change as a sociopolitical issue. Because politicians and the oil industry have sowed distrust in the severity of climate change, policies and potential solutions to the crisis should be primarily guided by scientific research. Though it’s a complex issue, a scientific lens could help filter out misinformation and political narratives and be the best guide to solving the crisis. Unfortunately, scientific research overwhelmingly shows that we aren’t doing enough as of now.
There are a few policies or policy approaches that could be helpful in saving our future. To start, cars and auto transit contribute a lot of carbon emissions. Our society and infrastructure are designed so that cars are the primary mode of transportation. It’s difficult to imagine a world where driving is not the most convenient mode of transportation, but we can rethink this framework. We can invest in infrastructure programs that make cities more walkable and bikeable, potentially replacing short car trips that account for so much driving. We can invest, expand, and encourage public transportation so it’s convenient for people across the nation.
Furthermore, investing in solar and wind energy is an effective way to mitigate climate change. Solar energy, if implemented on a widespread level in the US, could power eighty percent of residential water heating and cooling needs as well as serve as an alternative to fossil-fueled electricity, which accounts for more than a third of US greenhouse gas emissions (Solar Energy Industries Association). The current model for powering the US. simply is not sustainable, so solar energy could play a significant role in mitigating climate change.
On top of these specific policies, the US government needs to pass legislation that will enact a broad overhaul of our current industries involved in greenhouse gas emissions. One bill that embodies this approach is the controversial Green New Deal. While some of its goals may sound somewhat far-fetched at first glance, its approach is necessary. The New York Times explains that the Green New Deal seeks to “transition one-hundred percent of our electricity generation to renewable sources; build a national, energy-efficient, ‘smart’ grid; upgrade every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety; and transition the manufacturing, agriculture, and transportation industries away from coal, oil, and gas.” The ultimate goal is to transform our economy away from fossil fuels by 2030 and ensure that everyone has clean air and water in ways that prioritize justice and equity.
This sounds overwhelming and to a certain extent, it is. But overwhelming is what we need. This type of broad overhaul of our energy systems would create millions of jobs and tremendously help the environment. These extra jobs will provide many Americans with economic stability and ultimately grow the economy. One might ask about the cost of such government programs, arguing that it is too costly. Admittedly these programs and mitigation efforts would be expensive, however, the cost of allowing climate change to run its course would be far more devastating. The mass floods, wildfires, and weather events would destroy billions of dollars of property. Plus, the mass death that climate change would cause is incalculable.
Though it’s a daunting issue, humanity really has no choice at this point. We must act. The science is quite clear on the severity of climate change as well as the human activity causing it. We are called to act in accordance with science and facts. While some people are generally against increasing government regulation, stopping climate change requires it. Government regulation is not inherently a good or bad thing; it’s a neutral tool that can be used for any purpose. There’s really no better reason for government intervention than a massive crisis like climate change.
Con: Investing in Infrastructure
A Reasonable Response to Climate Alarmism
By Katelyn McCarthy
I shall not attempt to dispute the theory that the climate is changing due to manmade causes. It is unwise to attempt to hold an opinion on something which is beyond one’s scope, and the sheer amount of scientific journals produced on the subject is one which I have barely breached. Running with the assumption, however, that the climate is indeed changing due to manmade causes, I can suggest that the best course of action is not governmental regulation.
Common-sense environmental regulations, like those which prevent corporations from pouring waste chemicals into waterways, are perfectly warranted. Regulations that attempt to alter the global climate, however, are herculean efforts based too much on speculation to be reliable.
It should be remembered by this generation, which is inundated with fearmongering doomsayings as to the state of its planet, that the expectations as to how the climate shall exist in the future are based entirely on computer models—that is, algorithms and programs which, by means of the variables input into them, attempt to determine global temperatures, sea levels, and the like. Could these models be correct? Surely, they could. Could they, instead, be wrong? Indeed, they could. After all, they are but predictions. There’s nothing hard and true about them.
In 1989, for example, the director of the New York branch of the UN Environment Program stated that “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000” (Associated Press). Needless to say, we are twenty years past the turn of the century, and nothing of the sort has occurred.
A quick dive into the predictions that have been made regarding climate change quickly indicates that in every few years for the past forty an individual or group will come forth with a statement that the earth shall freeze over (or heat up, or drown--they really cannot make up their minds) within ten years of the proclamation’s issuing. One might argue that these statements are on the extremities and that more reasonable statements as to, for example, the correlation between CO2 emissions and an increase in the global median temperature, are more accurate. Fair enough. But to demand intense governmental regulations (no more plane trips or hamburgers, folks!) is a frantic, albeit ill-effective, response.
Natural disasters will occur regardless of whether or not the climate is changing. A protective solution, unlike little-tested fixes based on speculative climate change models, that is proven to diminish the damage such disasters cause is the furtherance of infrastructure. We know how to build bridges, buildings, and dams that can withstand catastrophes. Those parts of the world that lack these technologies are those which are least prepared for disasters, climate change-caused or otherwise. The most effective solution, therefore, would be to assist those parts of the world in developing and implementing such technologies.
It is objected that misinformation about climate change is spread by corporations who profit from exploiting natural resources. Perhaps, when the corporate wokification process is complete in a few years, this shall no longer be an issue. Until then, however, this objection is entirely sensible. To argue, though, that corporations cannot be trusted but politicians can is to take a wrong turn.
“What’s in it for a politician?” one might ask. “After all, it’s not like they’re out there destroying the planet for monetary gain.” True. But politicians do have something to gain from climate change. Global warming is a global issue that requires a global solution. And a global solution means centralized power. And power is a politician’s best friend.
Government regulation generally hurts the little people and benefits the powerful. If a program like the Green New Deal were to be put in place, one can bet one’s lucky stars that one will be required to follow the regulations or be fined but that politicians and the powerful will not. After all, those politicians and celebrities who most decry climate change are also those with expensive houses on presumably sinking beaches and who take CO2-emitting plane voyages far more often than does the average individual.
Ultimately, the best efforts to focus on are those which are most proven to be efficacious. Human innovation and infrastructure are those solutions, and government regulation ultimately will do nothing but hurt the little people. Perhaps climate change is in the same boat as flying cars: always coming, but never here when it’s supposed to be. Infrastructure, however, is the best protector against anything the earth has to throw at us, and we can build it as quickly as we need it.
Melanie Moyer '22,