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It is Time to take Responsibility and ACT!

Every nation state, and every person, holds some degree of responsibility for anthropogenic climate change.  In the world today, one cannot live without leaving an impact.  However, the answer is not as simple as that because responsibility is not distributed equally.  It is crucial to recognize the vastly different emissions of states.  In that light, those states who have contributed most to the problem ought to be charged with the task of leading the nation states towards more sustainable economies and ways of life.  This requires the cooperation of states who hold the most power in the international system, who currently feel little direct effects of climate change, and who are stubbornly stuck in their gas guzzling ways.  Thus, persuading these states to take responsibility for their contribution to climate change, and then take action to prevent disastrous effects from occurring is unlikely.  Here in lies the imminent challenge: to integrate proposed solutions to create one that states can work together to achieve, and fast.

The United States emits an atrocious amount of carbon dioxide which is pushing the entire world a bit closer towards experiencing dangerous climate change each year that the country does not act. In their book, A Climate of Injustice, Roberts and Parks list baffling statistics showing the United States’ unparalleled role in creating this problem.  “The average United States citizen dumps as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as nine Chinese citizens, eighteen citizens of India, and ninety Bangladeshis” (R&P, 5).  These numbers are scary, and scream that change is necessary on United States’ part.  Additionally, they prove that the United States is among the countries most responsible for anthropogenic climate change. 

The pressing issue is: who is going to take responsibility for climate change and influence change in the international political arena? There have been attempt on the international level to come to agreements about the level of carbon dioxide countries should be permitted to emit such as the Kyoto Protocol.  However, Kyoto pushed the idea that developed (Annex 1) countries should take the lead in reducing emissions, and the United States disliked the fact that all countries were not obligated to significantly reduce their emissions.  As a result, the United States did not sign on to the agreement.  Although the United States should be the first ones to reduce their emissions because they are grossly higher than most other countries in the world, the country is not even willing to try.  The world cannot wait for the United States to work through their politics and fossil fuel interests to begin tackling climate change, but at the same time it is difficult to move forward without the largest player involved.       

Looking forward, it is difficult to see a path which will please most countries because everyone has their specific interests and excuses.  Ultimately, developed countries not only need to reduce their emission, but they also owe developing countries aid because of the affects climate change has already had on developing nation such as desertification.  This concept, referenced in both Bulkeley and Newall’s Governing Climate Change and in Roberts and Parks’s A Climate of Injustice, is called “ecological debt.”  Developed countries used the easy energy (causing anthropogenic climate change) during their major development year and grew wealthy off of it.  Now, they must repay the developing world by aiding them in developing sustainably. This process requires cooperation and huge amounts of resources, as do all proposed solutions, which seems like a tall and almost impossible order in the world today.  The problem is that we do not really have a choice. 

Work Cited:

Bulkeley, H., and P. Newell, 2010. Governing Climate Change. Routledge, New York. pp. 35-53.

Roberts & Parks, 2007. “Fueling Injustice: Emissions, Development Paths, and Responsibility.”  In Roberts & Parks, A Climate of Injustice, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 133-184.

Union of Concerned Scientists. “Each Country’s Share of CO2 Emissions.” Accessed September 14, 2011.

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2 Responses to "It is Time to take Responsibility and ACT!"

  1. learyn says:

    The lack of emission limits for developing countries was stated by the Bush administration to be an important reason why the U.S. did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. But do you think Bush would have sent it to the Senate for ratification if the protocol had included limits for China, India and other developing countries? Do the policies pursued by the Bush administration suggest an interest in working with China, India or others to take serious action on climate change? Towards the end of his second term Bush did create the Asia Pacific Partnership. But that was years later, and had no binding emission limits. Might this have been just a convenient excuse?

  2. babsone says:

    I definitely agree with your point that the developed countries need to help the developing countries. As you mentioned, we historically polluted during our development and we need to maybe not “repay” the developing countries but definitely help them out to develop hopefully more sustainably.

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