Climate change is a complicated, multi-faceted issue that refers to the long-term shifts in weather (not day-to-day but decade-to-decade and century after century). Over a long enough time period, shifts in climate are a natural part of the planet’s meteorological cycle. Think ice ages of centuries past. However, the planet’s climate is now shifting so rapidly that outside factors must be considered—namely, the billions of tons of greenhouse gases human beings emit every year.
If you can accept that fact, all that’s left to debate is to what degree CO2, methane and other gases are altering the climate. We have a whole other list dedicated to the folks who can’t even get that far. This list, while shorter than that one, showcases a handful of positive stories about countries and companies that are making efforts to reduce their carbon footprints and lead the planet to a safer future.
Together, China and the United States emit nearly half of the planet’s carbon pollution. China emits the lion’s share of that pollution, but that’s a relatively recent development. For decades, the industrial progress of the U.S. was allowed to go unchecked, a fact that China used to drag its feet on more extensive pollution regulations until very recently. Now, however, China is accepting that burning fossil fuels is endangering its citizens’ health and wreaking havoc on its farmland.
This month, Chinese prosecutors won a lawsuit against a county environmental agency for ordering an “inadequate punishment” to a chemical dye company. The victory is being called a landmark decision in China’s new “war on pollution.”
China has also publicly criticized the United States for not doing more to support the Paris Climate Agreement, a concerted effort by the planet’s nations to combat climate change. “I believe the U.S. government can do better,” Xie Zhenhua, China’s special representative on climate change, said recently. “As the largest developed country in the world, the U.S. has done a lot in climate change and needs to be recognized, but at the same time, of course, there is a lot more work to do.”
It’s still more jaw-jaw than war-war, but the fact that China is willing to hitch its wagon to renewable energy and shut down thousands of coal mines shows that it’s willing to get serious on climate action. President Obama has done much to elevate climate change in the public eye, but without the support of half the legislative branch, America will continue to lag behind the Red Dragon.
This is an important story by virtue of what it throws into relief. ExxonMobil, we now know, was told by its own scientists that fossil fuel development would have a significant impact on the planet’s climate—and they were told this 30 years ago. Rather than share this information, or act on it, they set about creating a campaign to actively spread disinformation about global warming. Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, also engaged in global warming denial. And from a capitalist perspective, it’s easy to understand why these companies would do this. Oil makes them money, and less oil would make them less money. You might not like what they did, but they did it for the good of all the people they employed…at the expense of their future.
But compare that behavior to Total, the fourth-largest oil and gas corporation on Earth. Total has publicly declared that “a part of the world’s fossil fuel resources cannot be developed,” has sworn off drilling in the Arctic ice pack, has pledged to invest fewer funds in in Canadian tar sands and has said that it will increase its dealings in renewable energy from three to 20 percent over the next two decades. In that time, it intends to switch its focus primarily to natural gas.
Is it a perfect solution? Hardly. Natural gas is mainly methane, which absorbs far more thermal energy than carbon. But these pledges, compared to what Total’s contemporaries are doing, display an acceptance of reality that is refreshing. It’s too cynical to say we’ll take what we can get, so let’s just call this a “baby step” and see where it goes.
Few things you should know about Norway: More than 95 percent of its electricity comes from hydropower; it established a carbon tax way back in 1991; it was one of the first countries to capture and store CO2; and, over the past three years, it’s slowly divested itself of its fossil fuel assets. So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that it recently announced it would reduce its greenhouse gases to zero by 2030.
Yes, that’s right. In less than 15 years, Norway wants all of its vehicles to be emission-free and it wants all of its energy to be clean and/or renewable. Originally, Norway intended to hit this target by 2050. But on June 7, the nation’s parliament unanimously voted to slice 20 years off the goal.
If you want to criticize, you can start by saying Norway’s population is little more than five million, which is less than the city of New York. But of course its size is proportional to its nimbleness. Norway, unlike the massive United States (318.9 million and counting), didn’t need to be prodded into action. It chose to be a more responsible emitter all on its own and has a proven track record of sustainability. Will it be harder for the U.S. to approach anything like that goal? Absolutely. But Norway saw the path to a cleaner future and it seized it without delay.
Meanwhile, U.S. Senators are throwing snowballs in Congress.