Let’s start by saying the evidence for human-influenced climate changed is undeniable. Over the past couple hundred years, we’ve pumped more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the Earth has experienced ever before in a considerably shorter amount of time. Sure there is natural out-gassing and natural fires that both occur and have occurred in geologic history which have contributed to rising and falling atmospheric temperatures – but what we’re doing now is releasing more gases into the atmosphere at a quicker rate than what has happened before. How? Because we’re digging up coal and oil, burning it and releasing carbon that has been stored for millions of years into the atmosphere all at once.
This is hardly disputed within the scientific community. “We need to cut down carbon emissions to reverse the effects of climate change!” you may hear. Sounds easy enough. Just vote in the candidates promising windmills, solar panels and clean energy, right? However, there is another side of the story that is preventing these sorts of things from happening. It may sound small and petty, and to a degree – it really is.
Let’s say that the United States decided to completely overhaul their energy policy overnight and begin efforts to switch entirely to clean energy that produces little to no waste or pollution. Here’s what could happen:
1) During the time period it would take to make the transition, the country would be economically vulnerable and would fall to an energy crisis in the short run because of the lack of solar panels, windmills, etc that would be immediately in place – especially since solar panels and windmills are generally more expensive to set up and are less immediately profitable than coal and oil.
2) During this time period, US manufacturing would decrease, all of the jobs in oil and coal mining would vanish, unemployment would increase, gas prices would become impossibly high and only those with electric cars would be able to move around. The demand for electric cars would increase, as would the price. Long story short, the economy would take a huge hit in the short run.
3) Other countries not participating in this clean energy switch would not feel the economic hit. China, for instance, would continue their polluting nature and would continue to be a world powerhouse of manufacturing – despite their presence in the “Paris Climate Agreement”. Since it currently requires a lot of coal and oil to run factories and manufacturing in America, America would no longer be a viable competitor if it suddenly cut out its primary energy source.
Of course eventually there would be new jobs opening up in the clean energy movement – eventually major solar panel plants and other stations would require thousands of people to maintain and keep them running – jobs. However, this would not happen immediately – in the mean time, Americans would suffer financially.
Furthermore, if the United States were to go completely green overnight, it would not be enough to reverse climate change. It would be enough to barely slow it down at best. Why? Because the United States is not the only country contributing to the ever-growing amount of air pollution. The US is among many countries that lead pollution contribution such as China, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and Japan. If the US stops suddenly but these other countries don’t, there would still be dangerous levels of greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere that could do just as much damage – except now the US would have a manufacturing disadvantage and an energy crisis which, for the duration, would cause a window of opportunity for other countries to rip into the United States’ economy.
In short, if the United States suddenly cut out all oil and coal, the following would happen:
1) An energy and economic crisis that would cut thousands if not millions of jobs in the short run with an unknown time period for when they would be recovered
2) Very little effect on the environment since other countries would not be doing the same
Just as you cannot improve your health by smoking 10 cigarettes a day as opposed to 12 cigarettes a day, climate change cannot be seriously affected by just the United States cutting out carbon emission processes and not the other countries.
If we want to save the surface of our planet from climate change, the United States cannot do it alone. Every country contributing to air pollution must step up and change at the same time. However, this doesn’t seem to be the real world. It does not seem that we could ever get China, Brazil, Indonesia, Russia, Japan and others to stop burning their oil and coal regardless of international efforts and proposed agreements. If we can’t get them to stop, and it would make little difference if we stopped (and harm our economy in the process), what incentive really is there to switch?
This is an even more inconvenient truth that needs to be understood before people complain about why we “don’t just switch over to solar” or why we “don’t just stop using coal and oil.” It’s theoretically possible to reverse the effects of climate change, but only if all of the countries work together – not just the United States.