Taylor Mandelbaum is a senior atmospheric science major and the president of the Stony Brook Meteorology Club.
The annual Conference of Parties, or COP21, has officially begun in Paris as of Monday and will continue on until Friday, December 11th. Since 1995, most of the 196 countries involved in the treaty have conferred together at the COP to discuss and push forward efforts to mitigate the effects of anthropogenic—or human induced—climate change.
One of the resulting treaties to come out of the COP was the famous Kyoto Protocol of 1997, which set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a country-by-country basis. Many consider the Kyoto Protocol to be more symbolic than effective in combating climate change, with states such as China having no binding targets to obtain, the United States never ratifying the treaty and Canada, as of 2012, withdrawing from the treaty entirely.
In order for this year’s COP and resulting protocols to be effective, policies must not only maintain a symbolic nature but push forward common-sense strategies to provide the best result in the short and long term. The United States needs to be the leader in the international effort to combat climate change by enacting sound policy and innovating new technologies.
The most clearly stated goal of the COP is to limit the increase in global temperature to 2.7 degrees Celsius, and optimistically to prevent it from going beyond 2 degrees Celsius. Projections of future climate conditions indicate that at the current rate of warming due to increased greenhouse gas emissions, the rise of sea levels will be significant, even according to conservative models. Of course, an increase in the strength of hurricanes and severe droughts are also a big concern. Considering that we recently have just hit the 1 degrees Celsius threshold, this is quite the task, but can be accomplished.
As the United States, China, and other major producers of CO2 are beginning to reduce their output, developing countries that don’t have the luxury of using renewable resources will be vastly increasing their output as their population continues to skyrocket. How does an international body tell a less developed country to stop using the cheapest sources of energy available to them? Solutions beyond carbon taxes and cap/trade systems are essential, and fortunately, in the pipeline.
Big names in philanthropy and entrepreneurship such as Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson and Bill Gates recently revealed an initiative to fund private research into renewable energy, called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. Circumventing the need to find venture capitalists or use government grants, the coalition will fund new technologies which would have otherwise been subject to harsh limitations on innovation.
In the U.S. government’s camp, President Obama has set a goal to reduce our CO2 output by 32 percent by 2030, which is an excellent proposal, in theory. Ideally, we can invest our tax money into research and development as well as infrastructure creation and maintenance, which would reduce CO2 output much more than 32 percent.
Realistically, we’re forced to move much slower due to massive corporate interest and economical reliance on fossil fuels. Our tax money is currently used to subsidize much of the fossil fuel industry, with numbers ranging from $13 to $21 billion annually.
Regardless of the situation at hand, stagnation and non-action in congress and Washington D.C. needs to stop for effective action to take place. People who deny climate change tend to have little knowledge of energy budget equations and the actual definition of the greenhouse effect. If scientists were in it for the money, wouldn’t more of them be taking money under the table from the approximately $200 billion fossil fuel industry? It isn’t surprising that a recent probe into Exxon uncovered in-house research showing evidence of anthropogenic climate change that was swept under the rug.
As COP21 commences, it’s a great opportunity for those of you who have accepted climate change as a significant problem to consider your impact. If you want to make a difference, consider learning more about earth’s climate. We have some of the most intelligent professors in the country here at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, of which a few are Nobel laureates. Consider taking a class on climate or meteorology. Anyone can become an armchair scholar.
We might not necessarily be doomed, this much is true. But unfortunately, international water and food crises along with refugee emergencies from coastal regions will become much more commonplace. We can choose to accept this reality early or end up facing it when it’s knocking on our front door.