The climate is deteriorating. While in the past, experts have often disagreed about the pervasive influence of climate change on our world, recent investigations have revealed the severity of these alterations and their possible implications. Both nongovernmental and governmental organizations have endeavored to resolve these issues; their efforts, however, have not always yielded fruitful results. It is therefore integral that the United States and other major powers work to mitigate the effects of environmental change and prevent possible environmental disaster.
Governmental and multinational organizations have been at the forefront of environmental research, investigation, and cooperation. In fact, intergovernmental task forces and institutions have been quite effective at accomplishing these objectives and revealing the truth behind global climate change. For example, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released a report that highlighted many of the major (and currently occurring) consequences of environmental change. The report includes observations regarding the way in which “unique and threatened systems” are currently jeopardized by warming temperatures, the increase in “extreme weather events such as heat waves, extreme precipitation, and coastal flooding,” and shrinkage of Arctic glaciers and sea ice cover (among other issues) (“IPCC WGII”). The panel also proposes potential future implications of global climate change, including an increased dislocation of individuals, civil conflicts over resources and associated economic problems, and a decrease or change in the production of major food products (“IPCC WGII”). The Panel’s comprehensive list clarifies some of the confusion regarding environmental change and its possible effects: it would be quite difficult for an expert to refute the observations presented in the report. Institutions and leaders thus ought to consider the problems presented by the Panel and make an effort to both combat the changes that are currently occurring and postpone their future implications.
Unfortunately, the worldwide influence of climate change produces a massive collective action problem that is challenging to resolve. A collective action problem occurs when members of a large group are incentivized to deflect responsibility for an endeavor onto other members and “free ride” off of their efforts. Water pollution is a key example of an environmental collective action problem. Both its causes and effects can be traced to nearly all nations in the world, and therefore no one country is truly motivated to assume responsibility for the problem and alter its behavior substantially (especially if other nations will continue to act contradictorily). In fact, nations are often discouraged from reform if they perceive the individual benefits of acting to be smaller than the group benefits of doing so. For instance, although in 1999 China finally agreed to participate in a program (in collaboration with the Department of Energy) meant to reform its refrigerators and reduce its emissions of CFCs (“Refrigeration in China”), the nation had been incredibly reluctant to accept such reforms because it likely considered the economic consequences of changing to be larger than the environmetal consequences of maintaining its preexisting behavior. In other words, similar to many other nations, China prioritized its national problems over those of the international environmental community.
Granted, varied approaches have been taken to counter the effects of climate change. For example, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions (“Kyoto Protocol”). Although its success is often debated, the Protocol is a good example of the potential effect of worldwide commitment to environmental reform. The Montreal Protocol (instituted in an effort to protect the ozone layer) was also relatively successful in accomplishing its goals on a multinational scale (“The Montreal Protocol”). While these institutions have not necessarily counteracted the influence of climate change, the United States ought to continue engaging in international endeavors in order to encourage other countries to follow the American lead and reform their domestic practices. Offering other nations economic-based incentives for complying with multinational accords might also motivate them to reevaluate their policies and institute the changes essential to international environmental progress.
“IPCC WGII AR5 Summary for Policymakers” http://www.ipccwg2.gov/AR5/images/uploads/IPCC_WG2AR5_SPM_Approved.pdf
“Refrigeration in China: Energy Efficiency with Global Impact:” http://www.lbl.gov/Science-Articles/Archive/china-fridges.html
“Kyoto Protocol:” https://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/items/2830.php
“The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer:” http://www.epa.gov/ozone/intpol/
Polar Bear Photo: https://spaces.usu.edu/download/attachments/20971966/Last_Polar_Bear.jpg?version=1&modificationDate=1250803281000&api=v2