Climate Change: A Worldwide Warming Issue

There are some hot button topics that are constantly debated in regard to progress, legislation and general opinion. Women’s rights, gay marriage and reproductive rights are just a few common examples. These are all things that many people argue only affect certain parts of the population, meaning they are less inclined to voice their opinions or feel strongly one way or another. However, there is one major concern that affects everyone, no matter their race, gender, religion or political beliefs: climate change.

A few weeks ago, Naomi Klein, award winning journalist and author of “The Shock Doctrine,” held a speaking engagement at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts regarding climate change. Her talk was focused on how this issue will change everything that we know, for better or worse.

Klein started her discussion with recapping the climate change summit held last December in Paris, ultimately boiling the summit down to one sentence: “It was an incredible diplomatic achievement, but was an environmental disaster.”

The most significant progress the summit made was that all the participating governments agreed to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius while pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

To the general public, this did not seem like groundbreaking news or a big victory. But getting this language written into the summit agreement was a huge fight. This demand to get a more ambitious temperature target came from countries that are intensely vulnerable to climate change. African nations would see 3 to 3.5 degree increases, where the land would become unlivable. There was also significant support from low lying island nations; their only hope of surviving rising sea levels (a result of climate change) relies on acting now.

Once the language was agreed upon, the summit had to decide how each country would be allocated a “carbon budget” to help keep warming temperatures in check. However, the participating governments agreed that it would be too top down to tell countries what they could and could not do, specifically when it came to their carbon budget. Instead, each country would volunteer to create its own budget, in the hopes that the addition of all the individual country plans would bring the world to a 1.5 or 2 degree target temperature of warming. Instead, the degree of warming totaled 3 to 4 degrees Celsius (7.5 degrees Fahrenheit), twice what is agreed upon by most scientists that the Earth can handle.

The United Nations noted the gap with grave concern and urged the summit to find a solution. The only proposal to bridge this gap was a suggestion to regroup with participating governments every five years, to take stock of where they were currently in hopes that things would change for the better.

While the agreement in Paris made history, it is not a permanent solution. The summit treaty is also nonbinding; countries participating are doing so on good faith, not by legal requirement. In order to make the treaty legally binding, it would have to be ratified by Congress (which, according to Klein is not likely because of the Republican majority).

Currently, the road we are on will bring the world to a 6 degrees Celsius in global temperature change. As of today, we have raised the global temperature by 1 degree Celsius. It is important to remember the different ways climate change plays out around the world, including record heatwaves in India and Pakistan, warm winters in the U.S. and Canada and other major natural changes.

“It’s important to remember there are real people and real places behind these numbers and acronyms,” said Klein.  

For more information about Naomi Klein, visit naomiklein.org.

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