I agree that there are too many variables that affect the Earth’s climate to truly understand when we will see the impact of climate change. It is because of this uncertainty, of the length of time that it will take; that I agree that the government should make global warming a priority. Furthermore, Cline (1992) indicates that global warming will have an adverse effect on the economy and the environment if something is not implemented by policy makers soon.
Elizabeth Stanton and Frank Ackerman accuse the government of underestimating the cost of carbon on climate change; unfortunately environmental issues are not a priority amongst the voters. Although there is more awareness of it through the media, the effects of it are still under debate. It is because of this that most voters prioritize the economy when voting. Therefore industry, urbanization (both increase the carbon footprint) and creation of jobs are prioritized by many democracies as it is the “pocket of the voter” that wins votes. Furthermore, Bond & Sun (2005) indicate that it is industrialized nations that contribute the most to the anthropogenic CO² burden, which is predicted to have a long-term impact on climate change.
Also, it is through the world’s recession that there are increase pressures on governments to focus on jobs as opposed to environmental issues. An example of how governments and the public put livelihood before the environment can be seen through the decimation of certain rainforests in favour of farming. It is through this that cattle are replacing the trees, which has a further negative impact on the environment, as added methane gasses are omitted through the cattle. Admittedly this not happening in the United States; however the priorities of economic benefits override environmental issues in most countries. Furthermore, the timber from the forest is exported for monetary reasons. However governments, in general, are not taking global warming seriously enough to boycott this practice.
Stanton and Ackerman have estimated the social cost of carbon to be as high as US$900 per ton, which is a substantial difference to the US Government’s estimation of US$21 per ton. The latter amount is not much of a deterrent when you think of the benefits to the economy, employment and voters approval. It makes one question how both parties arrive at such different conclusions? The US Government is conservative with their calculations because when the effects of global warming are evident, they will be out of power and there will be a new government to deal with the issue. This is the short fall of democracy, as no democratic government is answerable for the long term effects of their decisions.
Therefore, the problem with long term issues is that many governments are more concerned about the immediate issues that affect their popularity. Stanton and Ackerman likened the calculated costs of global warming by the US Government to a family’s budget not providing for emergencies. This is not unusual behaviour within America and other western countries. We have seen the banks being bailed out by governments due to bad economic planning. So why would we be surprised to find out that governments are guilty of lack of planning with global warming?
Stanton and Ackerman concluded that the only way we will know for sure is to “wait and see.” Unfortunately this is the typical attitude taken with inherent health hazardous in the past. I am referring to asbestos and smoking. In hindsight, we now realize the costs of these health hazards upon our environment as well as the social effects that they have on the individual and their family.
In conclusion, it would appear that we do not learn from history. We have seen the perils of not addressing potential dangers or hazards yet we still adopt the “wait and see” philosophy. I think that this is the result of the governments focusing on the immediate concerns of voters, therefore not necessitating a long term view. In democracies where voters have the power to choose their government, we have to take responsibility for this attitude and vote for sustainable environment. This is the only way we will force governments to take environmental issues seriously.
Cline, W.R. 1992. The economics of global warming. Washington: Institute for International Economics.
Bond, T.C. & Sun, H. 2005. Can reducing black carbon emissions counteract global warming? Environ. Sci. Technol., 39: 5921-5926.