Global Warning: a Congress on cruise control

Sydney Hilbush

“Global Warning” is a column discussing climate policy under the Trump administration, focusing on the environmental repercussions of proposed legislation in the face of climate change. 

Governments are meant to lead by example. The states that comprise our nation are supposed to replicate and learn from the moral values exemplified by our federal administration. To form a successful nation, states and the national government must join forces to fight for the common prosperity and security of their citizens.  

Sadly, in the United States today, this system is completely flip-flopped. The lack of initiative by our current administration has required states to propose their own legislation to address issues imperative to our nation’s progression—issues that are otherwise neglected by governmental powers.

When our cities are flooded by rising sea levels and set aflame by wildfires ripping through communities at record-breaking speeds all as a result of climate change, it would be reasonable to assume that our government—the organization responsible for upholding the safety of citizens—would intervene. Instead, the current administration is doing the exact opposite. Since his first day in office, President Trump has taken aggressive steps to roll back Obama-era regulations regarding carbon emissions; to date, 78 environmental rules and regulations have been abandoned, according to joint research from Harvard and Columbia Law Schools.

As a consequence, our administration is accelerating climate change at an unprecedented rate. At current levels of environmental degradation, half of all plant and animal species face extinction in the next century, and 143 million people will be displaced from their homes by 2050, according to Time Magazine.

Out of fear of the drowned cities, destructive natural disasters and rising death tolls that encompass our future, states have taken it upon themselves to impose regulations on carbon emissions in order to slow the pace of global warming. In an effort to promote the Green New Deal, 21 states have joined together to create the U.S. Climate Alliance, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The alliance includes nearly half of the U.S. population and would decrease America’s greenhouse gas emissions by one-third, according to The New York Times.

Although the proactiveness of these states is praiseworthy, climate change will not be slowed to a reasonable degree unless every state is on board and the country is collectively held responsible for lowering emission rates. However, this type of nation-wide movement is only possible when backed by the federal government, the same administration that has yet to respond to our planet’s crisis. Beyond uniting the nation in reducing America’s carbon footprint, federal action offers a platform for engaging with other nations in creating international emissions reduction agreements, something that is nearly impossible to accomplish at the state level.

More importantly, the federal government is the sole power that holds the ability to impose nationwide taxes on greenhouse gas emissions, which has been proven to be the most effective way of slowing the pace of climate change. According to a study conducted by professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), implementing a $50 per ton carbon tax and increasing it by five percent per year would lead to a 63 percent reduction in total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. A government-issued carbon tax, such as the one proposed by MIT, would substantially reduce U.S carbon emissions and even surpass the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement—all without requiring copious restrictions or production limits that could hurt businesses and individuals.

Although state action is meaningful and progressive, it is the joint duty of our states and the federal government to protect our citizens and our planet, even though the federal government should be spearheading this effort. As the rapid pace of global warming only continues to accelerate, the federal government must be held responsible for creating and upholding effective climate policy to achieve impactful, long-term reductions in U.S greenhouse gas emissions before an inhabitable future becomes our reality.