What the United States Isn’t Doing for Climate Change


Jaclyn Narleski ‘20

Climate change: we’ve all heard the term.  We’ve seen it flash across headlines and written in textbooks.  And although it scientifically means the natural shifting of Earth’s weather over time, today climate change incites something entirely different…and much darker.  The United Nations met on September 23rd, 2019 to yet again discuss the rapid effects of accelerated climate change — global warming, rising sea levels, fluctuating weather patterns — and decide on the vital next steps to slow this global phenomenon.  However, the United States failed to commit to any action during the climate summit, which begs the question: is our country doing enough in the first place to help combat the detrimental effects of climate change?


To be frank, not really.  Upon the presidency of Donald Trump, the US has loosened many environmental restrictions in the fossil fuel industry that are meant to decrease greenhouse gas emissions [1].  Greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, are already a natural part of our Earth’s atmosphere, and work to trap in some of the Sun’s heat; however, the extra emissions of gas generated from our industrial world causes more heat to build up, resulting in worsening effects of climate change.  By cutting back on restricting the amount of restrictions placed on our fossil fuel industry, the United States makes a hefty contribution to the carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. In addition, our country began its withdrawal from the Paris Accord– a global agreement of the UN for fighting climate change –in 2017.  Since then, the US remains in the #2 spot for generating the most carbon dioxide emissions in the world: contributing to nearly 15% of global emissions [2].  And that’s not even the worst part: if every country behaved as we do with an extreme lack in limiting the release of greenhouse gases…the Earth’s atmosphere would be on track to warming by more than 4℃ in the next decade.  To put things in even more perspective, the Paris Accord sets a goal to limit emissions so the global temperature won’t rise more than 1.5℃ [3].  Talk about slacking!


Meanwhile, countries all over the world continue to make efforts in the fight against climate change: demonstrating a commitment to protecting our planet where the United States does not.  In fact, despite being the leading country in the world to generate the most emissions, China still works to change this fact; in the recent UN climate summit, China announced its plan to reduce its emissions by 12 billion tons per year [4].  They are still a part of the Paris Accord. And although if every country behaved as China did with their emissions the atmosphere would continue to warm by between 3-4℃, this is still an improvement compared to the United States [3]. Taking the third-place slot for generating the most emissions, India produces about 2, 467 metric tons per year; yet would only push the global temperature up by 2℃ because of their strict policies and commitment to the Paris Accord.  India aims to have 40% of its power industry non-fossil fueled by the year 2030, which will guarantee they will continue their trend of clean energy and lowered emissions [3]. All in all, it seems as if the other top countries are at least making efforts to save our Earth. So why hasn’t the United States done the same? Where are our commitments, our pledges, our attempt to help slow a problem that could end up destroying us all?


The United States used to have a focus on climate change…and could easily implement these policies again.  During the Obama administration, the “Clean Power Plan” set the US to lower its emissions by 32%  by the year 2030. To accomplish this, Obama’s plan would reduce carbon pollution from power plants, build more infrastructure powered by clean energy, and cut energy waste from homes.  This plan not only would have helped improve the environment, but also boost the economy by lowering the costs of renewable energy, creating new jobs, and saving Americans extra money spent on electric bills [5]. The Clean Power Plan laid out a cleaner, more energy-efficient future for the US…one that’s been diminished in the past three years.  As the second most impactful contributor to climate change, we ought to put aside the minute issues and tackle the much larger one at hand.


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/23/climate/climate-summit-global-warming.html

[2] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/06/chart-of-the-day-these-countries-create-most-of-the-world-s-co2-emissions/

[3] https://climateactiontracker.org/

[4] https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/assets/pdf/CAS_closing_release.pdf

[5] https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/president-obama-climate-action-plan