Hurricane Sandy has finally come and gone, but she has left a trail of devastation in her wake. And environmental catastrophes like her are becoming more common and are a direct result of climate change. Unfortunately, in our modern society, climate change is one of the least publicized yet one of the most important issues that faces the next generation.
With the coming election, presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have tactically avoided discussing the importance of climate change and the environment. In fact, this debate cycle was the first since 1988 which had no mention of these vital issues. In the barrage of personal attacks and meaningless rhetoric, the candidates avoided discussing the pressing issue that is our rapidly changing climate.
Climate change has always been a multifaceted and polarizing issue within the American political system. Numerous climate scientists have stressed that human activity in the U.S. and other developed countries such as China is doing irreparable damage to the environment. Then why is it that governments refuse to address climate change in the first place?
One of the first major policies to attempt to address climate change was the Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997 and fully implemented in 2005. The protocol aimed to cap the amount of carbon emitted by corporations in the complying nations.
The U.S. was the only developed country which didn’t comply with the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that the major problem with the protocol was the lack of enforcement mechanisms. Especially with the U.S. – the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide – there were no repercussions for massive carbon emissions.
The failure of the Kyoto Protocol and other similar international efforts indicate that government may not be the answer to climate change. While international taxation on carbon emissions is a noble goal, the problem lies in enforcement. International organizations such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization do not have enforcement power, and they must respect the sovereignty of complying nations. To that end, the issue of climate change needs to be on the political discussion table.
But with our presidential candidates ignoring the issue completely, it turns to the people and local governments to tackle this controversy. Local governments, which are more accountable to the demands of the people, need to take the first steps in pressuring national and even international authoritative bodies into complying with international environmental standards.
In addition, national policy should incentivize corporations to invest in green energy through tax breaks and other similar mechanisms. The green movement will not and should not begin internationally. Individuals at the grassroots level must lead these social and policy changes that will inevitably affect the planet in which we live. Climate change will define our generation, and we need to act now.
Agastya Mondal is a freshman Biomedical Engineering and Applied Math double major from Pennington, N.J.