Earth Day is not a particularly important holiday to the American People. In fact, most probably do not even realize Earth Day 2018 occurred while interest is declining. The majority of Americans certainty care about things like pollution. They want the water they are drinking to be safe, the air they are breathing to be free of pollutants, and the food they are eating to be healthy. In American politics, however, environmental concerns tend to garner public outrage only when there is a noticeable problem. Absent a major disaster, such as the ongoing 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, or controversy, such as the Flint Water Crisis, environmental issues receive very little public attention. Environment issues are not, of course, the only issues that Americans confront in a very passive and reactive way. It is how they deal with all issues that do not have an immediate and personal impact on their lives.
Unfortunately, the reactive characteristic of American politics makes it very difficult for US political leaders to proactively address issues that need to be solved before they become problems. Clearly, long-term environmental issues with indirect consequences like climate change run afoul of America’s political nature. It is why the small amount of news coverage about Earth Day 2018 centered on the decision of US President Donald Trump to withdraw from the 2016 Paris Climate Protection Treaty in late 2017 as well as the Trump Administration’s efforts to dismantle environmental regulations. Given Trump’s anti-Obama Administration, anti-regulation stances in general, it is important to recognize environmental regulations are not being neglected, because they address environmental issues. It is because the cost of addressing environmental issues is both clear and immediate, especially when it comes to financial cost, while the cost of ignoring environmental issues is not.
Because environmental issues and policies are naturally framed as economic issues that inhibit economic development and require government expenditures, the economics tend to trump the environmental. Not only are solutions to environmental issues experienced as costs in practical terms, solutions to international, long-term issues like global warming and climate change tend to offer very little guarantees in terms of effectiveness or adherence. Most signatories countries, for example, are already failing when it comes to honoring their commitments to the 2016 Paris Climate Protection Treaty. It is because the emissions cuts required under the Paris agreement were nothing more than political commitments loosely based on what science predicts is needed to stunt the rise of Earth’s temperature.
Regrettably, the biggest problem with the political approach to climate change is that world leaders do not see the threat of climate change in terms of economics and technology. World political leaders have been able to identify the goal of limiting global warming through greenhouse gas emissions cuts, yet they fail to detail the technological and economic means to achieve that goal. When it costs less to pollute, industries will pollute. When it costs more to pollute, industries will try to pollute less in order to save or earn more money from their waste. This is why the regulatory approach to pollution is to fine violators, thus raising the cost of pollution. In a globalized economy, this means industries are pressured to move where the cost of polluting is less.
In other words, there are no economic incentives for nations to reduce their pollution and even less for them to subsidize poorer countries. The effects of climate change will disproportionately cost geographically vulnerable, poorer, and more densely populated nations the most; whereas, preventing climate change will disproportionately cost wealthy nations more under the current Climate Protection Treaty. Not only will wealthier nations have to commit to larger reductions than poorer and less developed nations, they will also be required to compensate underdeveloped countries, so they can address the costs of climate change. It is reasonable and understandable why poor and developing nations want the already rich developed world to pay for climate change. Developed countries benefited the most from pollution by building their economies at the expense of everyone.
Should they embrace the same costs and restrictions without proper compensation as developed nations, third world countries will either fail to blossom into first world countries or make richer nations even richer as they develop into relatively weaker economic powers. In other words, they want the same opportunity to prosper as the developed world did. This view is, however, illogical and counterproductive as rich country have no direct incentive to spend money on the needs of poorer countries. Even if the tax dollars of developed nations are not siphoned off by corrupt and incompetent leaders of underdeveloped countries, recipient nations will struggle to compensate for climate change as money alone does not solve problems.
If subsidies are restricted to efforts that address climate change, they would be a huge boon for transinternational corporations in need of buyers for the “green technology” they develop. In essence, this would allow big businesses to funnel taxpayer dollars through underdeveloped nations into their pockets, which would circumvent the needs of the impoverished and create new opportunities for waste, abuse, and fraud. At best, recipients of climate change funds will use what money they get to help develop their economies. This will, in turn, likely just create new sources of greenhouse gases. For many impoverished nations, however, the monies will be used to provide their Peoples with famine aid.
Unfortunately, foreign dollars will only subsidize the entrenched and increased needs of the impoverished, yet fail to solve underlying economic problems. Subsidizing governments of underdeveloped nations may even perpetuate poverty by denying individuals and small startups the cost-cutting measure that is polluting. On the other hand, developed countries would be wise to follow the example of underdeveloped countries. Instead of looking at efforts to address global warming and climate change as a political commitment to the environment, they should treat climate change as an economic opportunity. World leaders must move beyond diplomatic commitments and punitive measures that impose costs onto businesses. In other words, world leaders should be exploring ways to help cultivate new technologies that can reduce energy use and propagate cheap, clean energy to transform wastes like air pollution into profitable industries.
With that in mind, world leaders and activists who want to address issues like climate change need to approach such problems the way an American would. It is easy to be especially critical of Donald Trump as a leader due to his provocative ways and unorthodox political persona. It is, however, important to recognize even Trump can be reasoned with, if he is presented with a business argument. Emissions cuts are goals. They are not a plan. A businessman needs a plan. The only plan that can have any impact is a plan that involves the development of environmentally friendly technology. For government, which does not create industries, this means outlining very specific actions, policies, and funding objectives that can help the world meet the goal of emissions cuts. It means identifying what kinds of technologies are needed to reduce emissions and how to propagate that technology.
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