On June 5 most of us woke up, commuted long distances to and from work, ate and drank from disposable products, and burned copious amounts of fossil fuels. Such lifestyles keep the wheels of our consumer society turning, and rarely do we pause to consider the global impacts of our daily routines. A little known fact also escaped our attention on June 5: it was World Environment Day, the international complement to Earth Day. World Environment Day was initiated by the United Nations over 30 years ago, in an effort to enhance political attention and action to environmental problems. It is problematic that an event occurring on an international scale passed by literally unnoticed in the United States. To me, it is as if the Olympics just happened and no one raised an eyebrow. However, World Environment Day does not deal with gold medals or steroid controversies, it deals with the most serious challenge we face as a global society: global warming. And as the single largest producer of fossil fuels, we need to pay attention to global warming science and solutions.
This year the international host city has been Tromsø, Norway. The slogan of this year’s celebration was “Melting Ice-A Hot Topic?” Norway announced it plans to reduce its global warming pollution output by 30 percent by 2020, then by 50 to 80 percent by 2050. Norway’s effort to limit global warming pollution should serve as a benchmark for the rest of the world. Glaciers around the world are melting much faster than we originally thought; Greenland loses the equivalent of one cubic mile of ice per week. Bill Mansfield, Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), recently visited Greenland and witnessed the Ilulissat glacier in Greenland retreat measurably in an hour and a half. He even has home video footage to prove it. While these changes are not happening where most of us live, right now, numerous U.S. cities lie at or near sea-level and we need to pay attention to these polar changes. Perhaps “The Day After Tomorrow” scenario is not as far off as we initially imagined…
The topic of global warming is an extremely hot issue, I don’t know how much hotter it can get. A poll from the New York Times and CBS recently revealed that 75 percent of Americans are willing to make sacrifices to take direct action against global warming pollution. The demand for green technology is soaring, as hybrid vehicles race out of lots and compact fluorescent lightbulbs fly off of shelves. While it is clear that we as individuals are ready and willing to make changes, we need help to make these sacrifices on a large scale. We are stuck in a society that does not always allow us to make sustainable, green choices. Not everyone can afford a Prius, and we must therefore schlep to and from work in vehicles that get lower gas mileage than those produced in the 1980s. Enacting global warming pollution legislation is necessary for the health of our environment and would be extremely good for the health of our economy.
The international scientific community agrees that we have a ten year window of opportunity to take swift action against climate change in order to avoid disastrous effects. We need government will to enact meaningful global warming pollution legislation that will achieve significant results within this timeframe. Our lawmakers have created committees, subcommittees, and select committees about global warming. There are about five hearings each week in the Senate and the House concerning global warming in one form or another. You cannot discuss our waterways, wildlife, energy, or practically anything without bringing up global warming. We do not have the luxury of time to debate any longer, and at the rate that Congress is moving the snows of Kilimanjaro will have already vanished before we have any sort of cap and trade program in place.
As the G8 summit convenes in Germany this week, the United States must join in the international conversation about limiting global warming pollution and take responsibility for its large share of global warming emissions. Rather than an impossible challenge, we should view this moment as an opportunity for tremendous growth in our economy and healthier, happier lifestyles for our citizens.