Let’s have a real debate, rather than a false choice, on climate change options

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The July 21 York Dispatch editorial “Climate change is an emergency, whether you believe it or not” argues for the relevance of a presidential declaration of a climate emergency and asks readers to ask themselves “how many people do we want to kill by inaction?

This reader asks the Editorial Board of The York Dispatch to consider how reasonable people – who are receptive to scientific consensus regarding climate change – can rightly be skeptical of a declaration of emergency or proposals for domestic policy presented and positioned as combating climate change.

Given that the declaration of a climate emergency could potentially divert funds from the defense budget, disrupt oil exports and/or imports, affect supply through drilling restrictions, and direct investment towards US-designed initiatives to reduce carbon emissions in the United States, it is reasonable to consider how and to what extent reductions in carbon emissions in the United States would affect climate change.

After:Climate change is an emergency whether you believe it or not

After:Biden announces modest climate actions, promises more to come

After:Climate misinformation leaves lasting scars as the world heats up

Proponents of national action on climate change legislation routinely cite localized heat waves, rising sea levels, wildfires and droughts as justification for the imperative to “act”. However, there is rarely, if ever, a corresponding description of how and to what extent the proposed measures will affect local heat waves, sea levels, forest fires, etc. which are so often invoked. There’s always data (such as quantified reduction in polar ice, sea level rise, and even projections of excess deaths in the aforementioned Dispatch editorial), but rarely there’s context.

So here is a critical context: the United States accounts for about 13% of global emissions (in 2021). Can a gradual reduction to 13% of global emissions significantly affect sea level rise, heat waves, etc.? commonly invoked to justify a declaration of emergency or national legislation? If so, it would contradict the reality that climate and climate change are definitely global. If not, efforts to tie US action on climate change to the outcome of improved local extreme weather conditions are misleading and inaccurate. In the absence of a legally binding framework to enforce emissions targets, U.S. climate action is routinely presented and promoted in a way that attributes global impact to domestic legislation and ignores the interconnectedness of our national emission reduction initiatives.

It is generally accepted that tackling anthropogenic climate change will require a net reduction in global emissions. How likely is an emergency declaration or other US legislative action to result in a net reduction? We don’t yet know the proposed emissions reduction target of a potential climate emergency declaration, but we do know of previously proposed Build Back Better legislation aimed at “reducing greenhouse gas pollution by far more than ‘one gigatonne (1 billion tonnes) in 2030’. according to the White House press release. Now consider the global context: China and India recently confirmed plans to increase coal production by a combined 700 million tonnes by the end of next year. When burned, this coal will produce an additional 1.4 gigatonnes (1.4 billion tons) of carbon emissions, which is roughly equivalent to the overall reduction in emissions in the United States between 2005 and 2020.

If we want to “follow the science”, we must also follow the data: China and India together account for 38% of global carbon dioxide emissions with an annual emissions growth rate of 1.8% and 4.0 % respectively. What effect will the declaration of emergency and/or legislation from a country accounting for a 13% (and declining) share of global emissions have on local heat waves, sea level rise , etc. whether the statement and/or legislation is more than offset by increases in two countries representing a combined 38% (and growing) share of global carbon dioxide emissions? If the goal is to reduce the water level in a pool, can this be achieved by draining some of the water from a small section of the pool while adding more water to a larger section of the swimming pool ?

If national climate action does not, by itself, produce a net reduction in global emissions or does not have a substantial effect on heat waves, sea level rise, etc. that are invoked to justify it, then rational and reasonable citizens have an obligation to challenge policy makers and experts to set aside the hyperbole of the title of the local weather event. Instead, we should collectively look at hard data to inform cost-benefit considerations, as one would expect for any other national legislation.

If proponents of national climate action believe that the overarching goal is to incentivize other countries to pursue their own emissions reductions (instead of materially affecting global emissions or the impact of climate change ), then this is an argument in favor of a largely performative measure. That may be a strong and compelling argument, but either way, we should have the political debate – and avoid portraying climate change considerations as a false choice between “doing something” to fight climate change. climate change or denying climate change.

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