In November 2018, the second volume of the National Climate Assessment Report mandated by the US government and prepared by the American scientific community was released and was met with an equal dose of cheer and concern. The report was made very popular by the decision of the current US administration to “bury” the report by releasing it on the Friday following Thanksgiving.
The biggest achievement of the report as far as I could see was that it finally laid bare to us all, exactly how badly climate change could harm the United States politically and economically. The implication is that the US can no longer bury its head in the sand and view climate change as something affecting other people.
According to the Global Internal Displacement Centre, since 2008, an average of 24 million people has been displaced by climate change each year. Most of these people came from developing nations in Africa, the Middle East and various parts of Asia. They were running from droughts in Sudan, rising water levels in Bangladesh and typhoons in the Philippines. In Nigeria, desert encroachment alone has led to clashes between cattle herders and farmers over pastures. The biggest cause of all of these is the change in our climate, which is primarily caused by rising temperatures in the Earth’s atmosphere, which in turn is mostly caused by the increased release of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Most of these countries are nowhere near the top 20 carbon emitting countries. Most African countries produce less than one percent with the continent accounting for just 2-3 percent of global emissions. On the other hand, the United States is a massive producer of greenhouse gases. In fact, as at 2014, the country accounted for a whopping 15 percent of global emissions. With a 3.4 percent rise in 2018, this figure is now about 19 percent. This is about five times more than produced by the entire African continent.
In addition to this are the massive emissions generated in other countries in their efforts to produce goods and services to serve America’s massive consumer culture. From the cotton fields of India to the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, the US appears to benefit the most from a lot of the activities that are inimical to the environment. So, in reality, if there is any one country to be held responsible for global warming and climate change, it is the United States of America.
Admittedly, such a huge consumer culture seems crucial to the world’s economy. It contributes to the world’s economic wellbeing and watches out for other countries by being the biggest spender, amongst other things. If the United States stopped buying as much as they do, the effect would reverberate across countries around the world, big and small because the States is the biggest paymaster in the world economy.
With such position though, comes great responsibility because times are changing. The outcry on climate change is a universal call for action and perhaps the best way for the US to look out for the world today might be to do the reverse. To lead the charge to change by buying and building less. To save the environment with as much cash, vigor and enthusiasm as it once used to lead us to this point. Or at the very least, to attend and be a part of climate change discussions today with maybe a reduced emphasis on walling off the country from other “shithole” places.
While it may be the source of numerous green technologies and data on climate change, the American government and her corporations (and I daresay her people) have not shown a collective desire to recognize climate change for the emergency that it is. As a matter of fact, the opposite seems to be the case in recent times under the extant democratically elected president. Progress made under previous administrations have been gradually eroded. From rolling back the EPA regulations to threatening to pull out from the Paris Agreement, things are far from rosy for the environment under President Trump.
The latest climate report has brought all these to the fore. Since its release, the clamour for a more environmentally responsible United States’ government has ratchetted up. An already disturbing situation was unfortunately made worse by the recent tragedy of the California Camp fires, the worst of its kind in the history of the state. The report and recent natural disasters in the country have made climate change a clear and present danger, maybe even more than the somewhat extolled crippling effects of accommodating asylum-seeking immigrants in the country.
For all the effects of climate change on this mighty nation, twice is the impact for Africa. As Amadou Sy nonresident senior fellow and former director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution puts it, “Africa will bear the brunt of global warming, which will be mainly caused by developed economies and some emerging ones; but Africa often has limited bargaining power in international negotiations”.
I grew up reading about the USA like it was my own country. I have come to understand the immense power she wields in world politics to be largely as a result of her willingness to step up when the occasion calls for it; to lend a helping hand or to pave the way in various issues. From what I can see, the current administration is not about that life but I do not presume to tell a country how to run its own affairs.
I only know, as we all do, that climate change is a problem most perpetuated by a select few but with lasting negative impacts around the world. I only know that the United States ranks high on this list of top perpetrators and that she is also more equipped than most to better insulate herself against the effects of her own dangerous actions. And because I know all these, I believe its high time the US stepped up to her own plate.
The rest of the world is counting on it.
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