Some like it hot, some don't have a choice
I think it’s safe to say that anyone who has been even slightly outside this summer knows that it’s unbelievably hot. Of course, you can chalk this up to normal summer heat, but recent data from NASA reveals just how hot it really is. According to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), 2016 has been the hottest year on record dating back to 1880. Each of the first six months of this year has been the warmest in modern temperature record, with an average temperature 2.4° F (1.3° C) higher than the nineteenth century starting point. So perhaps a little complaining about the heat is justifiable.
Yet beyond some inevitable discomfort, the rising temperature is a clear sign that climate change is a continuing threat to the planet. It is also a clear sign that not enough has been done until this point to reverse this trend. At this year’s G20 Summit, the United States and China ratified the Paris agreements to significantly cut carbon dioxide emissions. The US pledged to cut by 26-28% in 2025 by 2005 levels, while China pledged to cut carbon dioxide emitted per dollar of economic production by 60-65% from 2005, and to increase their use of renewable energy by 20% by 2030. This represents a massive shift in the strategy against climate change since, according to the EPA, the US and China are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases with a combined 38% share of production. Recognizing this fact, President Obama said after signing the ratified documents, “We have a saying in America that you need to put your money where your mouth is. And when it comes to combating climate change, that's what we're doing. Both the United States and China, we're leading by example."
However, many Americans question this commitment to lead by example, since the billions made from industries most contributing to climate change is a hard thing to refuse. Oil and energy companies are the highest spending lobbyists of 2016 and are among the top campaign contributors, which of course translate to powerful influence over legislation. If Washington is so deeply in bed with the oil lobby, how can any real and practical changes be made to combat dire consequences of climate change?
This struggle between industry progress and environmental protection is so poignantly depicted in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline. In what has become the largest gathering of Native American tribes in 100 years, hundreds of “protectors” have set up camps in the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota in protest of the 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter crude oil pipeline, or what one tribal chairman calls, “The Black Snake”. Citing the numerous incidents of pipeline spills and accidents, 1,400 between 2010 and 2013, the tribes argue that since the pipeline crosses the massive Missouri River twice, the pipeline is a major threat to thousands of Americans dependent on that water source. Such spills, like the 2010 Kalamazoo River spill in Marshall, Michigan, can cause irreversible damage to the environment. The peaceful tribes have been met with harsh violence and suppression. Additionally, the construction of the Dakota pipeline has decimated sacred Native American burial grounds, resulting in a federal judge ordering Energy Transfer subsidiary Dakota Access LLC to halt construction, but only in a very small area.
It seems that agreements, commitments, and ratifications on combating climate change are only talk if a $3.8 billion oil pipeline is more valuable than the well being of America’s native peoples. Hopefully G20 represents a new beginning, but it is unlikely as long as the oil industry is able to convince lawmakers to choose so called “progress” over people.
Of course, nations who are the largest contributors to human-induced climate change are not the most vulnerable to its effects. Regions like the Middle East and Africa are already suffering from the warming temperatures. Drought in the Mediterranean Levant is the worst than it’s been in 900 years. Evidence has linked the forced migration of rural populations in Syria into the cities as a crucial catalyst in economic destabilization that sparked the civil war. Studies project the Middle East will become so hot in the next century it will be virtually uninhabitable. Two-thirds of the Sub-Saharan Africa is employed in the rural sector, leaving millions of people completely vulnerable. Inter-tribal violence over dwindling lakes and rivers is already regular occurrence in the continent.
In the developed world, we have the luxury of debating whether climate change is even real since those who suffering its consequences now are very far away. Meanwhile, the earth is getting warmer, world leaders are signing papers, and oil pipelines are still being laid. Until American decision-makers are convinced that climate change is an issue of national security, industry and profit will always come first. So ‘til then, get used to the hot summers and get yourself a glass of water while you can.