As the Earth continues to heat up because of global warming one must wonder if the policy decisions reached at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be too late.

It should come as no surprise that the Earth is getting hotter.  Recent scientific findings have definitively concluded that the Earth’s temperature rose by 0.6 centigrade degrees over the twentieth century, an unprecedented rate that is likely to increase in the future.  Moreover, sea levels have risen 3.1 mm per year (an all-time high) and greenhouse gases have reached damaging and almost irreversible levels.

With this, it is imperative that a global policy consensus be reached at the UNFCCC.  The problem is the multitude of lenses people through which people view climate change.  I would argue, from a United States student perspective, that using an ecological and economic lens to develop a policy solution would be the most effective and strategic.

Within the United States, an environmental consciousness is just now developing and is therefore quite a ways from where it should be.  At schools like Dickinson College, environmental consciousness is of the utmost concern.  The campus is filled with recycling bins and sustainability is often built into the curriculum.  However, Dickinson is a small representation of colleges and American society.  When I studied at New York University for a semester, I found that recycling bins and a concern for the environment were virtually nonexistent in both the university and New York City.  Concern for the environment needs to be taught in schools and households early on so that an ecological lens and connection to the Earth can be developed.

Although a connection to the planet is important, in a capitalistic society such as America, economic terms are given the most priority.  From a micro-standpoint, in states like California, someone trying to recycle plastic bottles can earn at most only ten cents per bottle, meaning that it would take 100 bottles to equal ten dollars.  With this limited financial benefit, there is little incentive to recycle leading many not to.  This same concept can be applied to large corporations that with no tax incentives feel no need to consider external costs such as the environment.

With the development of an ecological consciousness and increased government incentives for green initiatives, I believe the United States can begin to address climate change.  These two lenses should be used at the UNFCCC to develop policy solutions.  However, scientists have argued that damage has already been done and in order to prevent irreversible damage CO2 levels need to be reduced to 2 percent of today’s current levels by 2050, a goal many would call unobtainable.  Is this possible and if so which lens should we use to sway policy makers.   This is a question that we can only wait to answer at the UNFCCC in Copenhagen in December.

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