The vast majority of scientists around the world agree that our climate is changing at a faster rate than ever recorded in human history because of our use of fuels such as coal and oil, so-called fossil fuels. The conclusion rests on basic physics known since the early 1800s, when physical scientists first recognized that carbon dioxide, then a recently discovered gas, could act as a sort of greenhouse, preventing heat introduced by the sun from escaping back into space – the “greenhouse effect.”
While President Trump has promised to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, China’s President Xi Jinxing has vowed to continue to tackle climate change and honor his country’s obligations. Will China become the global leader in combating climate change?
The market and government regulators are sending a message that is clear and ought not be misunderstood: people care about the environment and the quality of their air. If people did not support air pollution regulations they would not have cared about Volkswagen’s disregard of environmental law.
No one should underestimate the scale of the challenge that confronts humanity. It will require new technologies and changes in infrastructure, organizational capacity, economic incentives and public policy.
Humans have been burning fossil fuels for only about 150 years, yet that has started a cascade of profound changes that at their current pace will still be felt 10,000 years from now, a new study shows.
What protection can we fall back on when a giant, powerful, multinational corporation leads an effort to change the nature of reality itself and redefine scientific fact? The answer is of course, is the protection of other powerful institutions: research universities like the one I work for, the Congress, and, in this case, the New York State attorney general.
The fact that we are addicted to energy and still require fossil fuels should not be taken to mean that we couldn’t get off of fossil fuels while increasing energy efficiency. We can and we will. But no one is going to give up the current energy system until a cleaner one comes along that can match the cost and convenience of the energy we use today.
While it is true that many nations do not enforce their environmental and occupational health and safety rules, a quick study of economic history demonstrates that the trend is toward more enforcement rather than less enforcement. And even when the government ignores noncompliance with the law, NGOs and consumers notice it.
Let’s remember that America is part of a global economy, and if we are not aggressive about sustainability we may find ourselves left behind and noncompetitive in the new businesses that emerge in renewable energy and recycled materials.