United States Continues Commitment to United Nations Climate Change Goal

Earlier this month, the United States reaffirmed its support for the United Nations’ goals to halt climate change, particularly the goal of keeping rising temperatures around the world to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. The move came after the European Union and small island nations questioned the United States’ dedication to the worldwide goal, which would ensure that the average global temperatures do not experience more than a 2-degree increase.

The Huffington Post reported that, in a statement, United States climate envoy Todd Stern said, “The U.S. continues to support this goal. We have not changed our policy.”

Think Progress, a blog by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, reported on the issue and said, “The U.S. can’t easily reverse course on the 2C target any more than it could announce tomorrow that it was pulling out of the U.N. climate negotiations altogether.  Since the president put his own credibility on the line in forging the language of these agreements, he’d have to provide some explanation to other global leaders. It would, in short, be a diplomatic train-wreck for our chief climate negotiator to announce a reversal of the US position in a speech like this one.”

Environmental advocates joined the European Union and the small island states in encouraging UN member states to continue their commitments to the 2 degree Celsius target. The United States’ first approval of the 2C target was by President Obama in 2009, who endorsed the goal with leaders of other developed nations. Scientists expect average global temperatures to rise by 3 degrees Celsius if climate change continues at the current rate, and some experts believe that, right now, the 2-degree target is unattainable because not enough ambitious and aggressive action is being taken against climate change. Others still continue to deny that global warming is happening or that humans are causing the Earth’s temperatures to rise.

Some scientists and organizations, including NASA experts, believe that the target of 2 degrees Celsius will not be enough to adequately slow the effects of climate change, and instead favor a goal of limiting temperature changes to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This translates to limiting the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million (ppm); current CO2 levels are at 392 parts per million, while a century ago, the concentration was 275 parts per million. 

Despite efforts to reduce emissions and embrace green technology, carbon dioxide levels continue to rise and peaked in 2011, bringing warmer temperatures. The 2000-2010 decade set a record for the warmest decade since the mid-1800s, and July 2012 was the warmest month ever on record in the United States. Extreme temperatures – both warm and cold – as well as natural disasters such as droughts, torrential rains and floods, and fires have hit countries around the world in recent years. The impact of these natural disasters has devastated crops and local economies, including agriculture in the United States, where 88 percent of the nation’s corn is affected by drought. All of these devastating events have occurred with only a small increase in global temperatures; the effects of climate change will become much worse if temperatures are allowed to rise above 2 degrees Celsius.

Because carbon dioxide enables the atmosphere to retain heat, some CO2 is necessary to maintain a livable climate, but too much leads to global warming and the problems associated with it, including ocean acidification, increased particle pollution and respiratory illnesses, drought and other natural disasters, glacial melting, and the spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever due to mosquitoes that breed faster in warmer temperatures. 

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/mpd01605/2462760192 

Risqué Environmental Group Calls out Population Growth

With baby number seven billion crawling into the world, someone had to say it:

Mother Earth can’t support all of her children.

And oh, the Center for Biological Diversity did more than say it. Since last year, the group’s been working on their “condom campaign,” passing out condoms with endangered animals printed on the wrappers across college campuses nationwide.

The point? To promote planned parenthood, to curb skyrocketing population growth, and of course, to encourage debate and discussion on how protected sex can protect the environment as well.

“All the species that we save from extinction will eventually be gobbled up if the human population keeps growing,” the center’s executive director, Kierán Suckling, told The New York Times.

Joel E. Cohen, chief of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller University and Columbia University, seemingly backed up Suckling’s statement, saying, ““Every person you add to the country makes all these tremendous demands on the environment.”

Even without the experts chiming in, the link between population growth and environmental stress is fairly obvious. An increase in people means an increase in carbon emissions, and a decrease in the space, food, and resources that go around. To put it simply, babies may be small, but they come with a large cost.

So why the hush-hush surrounding the issue?

Well, for starters, while it’s supported by facts and logic, the stance isn’t a very popular one.

Quoth Mireya Navarro of The New York Times: “When Oregon State University released a study two years ago calculating the extra carbon dioxide emissions a person helps generate by choosing to have children, the researchers received hate mail labeling them ‘eugenicists’ and ‘Nazis.’”

Unsurprisingly, other groups have shied away from birth control as an environmental fix. The Green Group did not return The New York Times’request for interview, while the Natural Resources Defense Council president Frances Beinecke said her organization couldn’t afford to squeeze another issue onto the agenda.

And according to Carl Pope, chairman of the Sierra Club, reproduction is a taboo topic because “there’s a huge atmosphere of intimidation. The moment you say ‘family planning,’ immediately somebody pulls out abortion.”

But not everyone who’s backed away from the population control position has done so because of controversy. Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, claims that a lack of concrete research pinning population growth to environmental damage has prevented him from supporting the cause.

Carbon footprints aren’t necessarily connected to rising birth rates, he says, suggesting that they’re instead a result of rising incomes. Case in point, the United States, which boasts a 2.0 fertility rate, yet has the second highest rate of carbon emission per capita, according to the federal Energy Information Administration’s latest estimates.

“[The issue] gets complex very quickly,” says Knobloch.

Yet, perhaps, that complexity is what warrants a greater study of the effects of population growth and, if they are considerable, how they can be curbed. As the Center for Biological Diversity demonstrates with its bold yet bawdy tactics, ignoring the issue does not make it disappear.

“Reproduction is always going to be a matter of free will,” said Randy Serraglio, “condom campaign” manager. “This is about getting people to make the connection.”

Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Jelly_babies.jpg