Studies presented late last year highlighted that the United States has been leading the global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
The notion that the country, and maybe even the world, was well and truly on the path toward a cleaner, efficient energy future, prompted rejoicing in some quarters.
Regardless of whether the data presented in these studies is accurate, it is somewhat misleading in a variety of ways.
First, even though CO2 emissions from the United States may be lower now than in the past, it is still high.
The emission levels were high a few years ago, which is the comparison benchmark, and it is unfair and incorrect to compare modern high levels to slightly lower levels in the recent past.
Furthermore, the economic struggles facing the United States have led to less money being spent domestically on goods that burn fossil fuels. However, the United States is producing more fossil carbon-containing products which are sold overseas, where that fuel is burned, releasing the CO2. Thus, in a global context, CO2 levels are likely as high as they have ever been.
Second, the greenhouse gases which have already been released stay in the atmosphere for a long time, so any adjustments made in the past couple of years haven’t really made a dent in emission levels. Finally, the extra methane being released by fracking operations is understudied and underreported, resulting in the effect on emission levels being unknown.
It must be acknowledged that the United States and countries around the world have made progress toward reducing emissions and rising temperatures. However, a powerful and surprising trio of the CIA, the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and the World Bank have released reports warning despite government efforts, global temperatures may rise 4° C, and maybe even 6° C, instead of the goal of no more than 2° C in the next century. Such a rise would trigger severe heat waves and drought, cause sea levels by rise by three feet, decimate food supplies, and exacerbate global poverty.
It has become abundantly clear that climate change and the emissions which are responsible for it must be dealt with immediately.
However, the economic woes of the United States, the intractable disputes in countries throughout the Middle East, and a multitude of other global issues mean that it is unlikely the climate will be in the political discussion anytime soon.
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