Let’s face it; people tend to get edgy when the US is mentioned. Whether it be eyebrow-raising foreign policy and pathological consumerism, or over-the-top celebrity culture and oligarchic corporatism, people, many of them Americans, wish that whatever they do, could they just do it quietly.
But there’s something to be said for volume.
For example, the world couldn’t help but take notice when, at the beginning of this week, President Obama unveiled a new policy to reduce pollution in the US energy sector. When a country that has 4.5% of the world’s population but emits 15% of the world’s pollution decides to take a long hard look at itself, you can’t help but tune in.
Of course, the Obama Administration’s solution is not ideal. The policy attempts to stymie increases in carbon pollution rather than going after reduction. Also, many argue that the country was on its way to meeting its national average on reduction anyway. But here’s the thing: where there was no legal limit – no accountability – on how much CO2 a power plant can belch into the sky, steps are now being taken to put one in place.
Either way, this kind of thing kick-starts the discussion about taking active, concrete steps towards reducing and turning around carbon emissions on a global level. For some countries, like the Marshall Islands and the Maldives, it literally means sink or swim, for other countries, like Canada and Australia, it emphasises the level of gutlessness it takes to remain sycophants to the fossil fuel industries.
Even China, spouting one fifth of the world’s pollution, and long a global whipping-boy for its dismal environmental track record, appeared to take a strong stand right after the US announcement. China’s statement, later downgraded from official decree to academic banter, still shows a shift in thinking within the higher circles of its power structure – starting with a region-based carbon trading scheme.
The EU’s announcement at this week’s UNFCCC Bonn climate change conference of “over-achieving” greenhouse gas emission cuts by 2020 may be a bit too smug. Especially considering that the European Union is now being confronted with the stark correlation between non-renewable fuels and security.
Right at this moment, under the grim cloud of the Ukrainian crisis, the G7 are meeting to discuss what to do about a little problem called Russia. Underpinning this is the inherent question of Europe’s energy dependence on the IV drips of Gazprom and Rozneft, Russia’s fossil fuel oligarchies. With Germany, France, Italy and the UK represented at the table alongside the US, the distinction between security and climate change could be swept away today: energy dependence drives dangerous climate change as much as it fuels conflicts.
In terms of the global discussion of battling emissions there does appear to be a gradual, creaking shift away from the childish, “Why should I do anything about emissions, when they won’t do anything about emissions?” – less, I’ll show you mine if you show me yours, and more, I’ve shown you mine, now ante up or fold.
Changes are happening, and those changes are based on volume. Not just the loudness of the US, but the millions upon millions across the globe who are willing to cry out and demand that the fossil fuel industries be damned and that the planet must come first. As we inch toward global policies on emission reduction now is not the time to rest, because the fossil fuel industry has billions in currency to flush into lobby groups and climate-skeptic campaigns, and we are still only millions of people, and relatively quiet by comparison. But with every new voice we add to the call for a sustainable future, we rob them of their reckless and detrimental investments.
So let’s turn up the volume.
Arin de Hoog is a media relations specialist at Greenpeace International.
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