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The United States of Extinction: Shunning the Paris Accord

Published on News24: 06 June 2017

For those of you who subscribe to the science of climate change and its potentially catastrophic consequences, skip the next paragraph. For those who don’t, read on…

To use a simple analogy: the chances of dying in a car accident in South Africa are roughly 1 in 7 000 (vehicle occupants per year), and yet our vehicles are fitted with airbags and we wear safety belts to keep us safe.

Now, as a climate change sceptic, what would you say the chances are that climate change is real and could lead to our extinction – 1 in 10; 1 in 100? Would you risk your life and get on an aeroplane with these odds? A devoted dissident might even say ‘1 in 1 000’, and go on to ridicule the need for the environmental equivalent of airbags and safety belts.

But, they should ask themselves this: if we go to such extremes to keep ourselves safe in vehicles, shouldn’t we do the same for climate change which has a chance of threatening our collective existence?

Cowboy behaviour

Last Thursday, Donald Trump reaffirmed general opinion that he is more a cowboy than a president. His announcement that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord astonished the world and led to widespread rebuke from various leaders. 

It’s no secret that America has contributed over 25% of the cumulative CO2 emissions since 1750 and is currently the second largest carbon contributor after China. Less known, however, is that the average child living in America has a carbon footprint 138-times higher than a child in Bangladesh. 

One can, therefore, reasonably deduce that the United States is largely responsible for the climate change dilemma that the world now faces.

Encouraging development

But it’s not all doom and gloom. One positive spinoff from Trump’s indiscretion, is the standing together of Europe with China and India. If anything, the shock withdrawal has reinvigorated the determination of the European Union and these two nations to mitigate climate change. And thank goodness this is the case, because these three entities alone make up almost 50% of the world’s current, annual CO2 emissions.

Highly concerning, however, is the United States’ rank as the world’s most powerful nation and the belief of its President that he can do whatever he pleases without consequence. Having unsurpassed economic clout, military reach and political influence makes it extremely difficult for the world to take any decisive action against it.

We, thus, have to ask ourselves: what can the rest of the world do when the so-called ‘global policeman’ goes rogue? 

Whereas the United States is able to apply sanctions on other nations with little or no consequence to themselves, the same cannot be said for vice-versa. 

US is now an 'eco-rogue'

Almost all other nations on Earth are dependent on the US to some degree, and if relations with the US were ever compromised, their economies would be negatively affected.

Unfortunately, to persuade the United States to do anything not seen in its ‘national interest’ would take a concerted global effort – for instance, a worldwide boycott of American products, most especially their signature brands in eCommerce (Facebook), technology (Apple), banking (Citigroup) and vehicles (Ford).

The US’s fragile economy wouldn’t weather a sustained boycott storm, and might be left with no alternative but to relent. Possibly, not even this extreme measure would be sufficient for Trump to reassess US commitment to the Paris Accord.

Internal pushback

But international pressure is not the only option. What has been particularly encouraging since Thursday is the considerable pushback across the United States to Trump’s decision. States like California have declared that they remain committed to reducing CO2 emissions despite the President’s announcement. Possibly this internal pushback will grow to such an extent that Trump is forced to rethink his decision.

We should also not forget that simple economics might rule the day. In the United States, gas and certain renewable energies have become far more economical energy sources than coal, so it is likely that the coal industry will decline through economic pressure rather than international or internal political pressure.

In the meantime, however, Europe, China and India will take the lead in the US’s absence, and will champion the world’s efforts in averting a climate change disaster. Whether the world is able to achieve this without the full cooperation of the United States will reveal itself over the next decade, by which time one thing is absolutely certain … there will be another US President in power. 

But until then, the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Accord should be seen as a catastrophe for the future of humankind.

Let us not forget

Our planet is a small spaceship in the inhospitable vastness of space and if we stuff it up, we’re on a particularly unpleasant one-way road that ends in the cul-de-sac of comprehensive extinction.

So, for the climate change sceptics out there: next time you’re buckling-up for that unlikely car accident, ask yourself why mankind shouldn’t do the same for the environment. 

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