What if…

When you have a child, there’s a certain perspective shift that takes place. Before William, my viewpoints on issues were based on short-term thinking. If our economy was slowing down, I thought it best to do everything we could to turn it around. If gas prices were rising, I figured we should whatever possible to keep them at an affordable level.

Only after William arrived did my outlook begin to change. When thinking about issues, I couldn’t just consider the short-term, but also had to think about the effects my views would have on future generations. After all, I had a son now, and the term “future generations” had become personal. Now I had to be thinking about William’s, my son’s, future and what we would be leaving him to inherit.

Considering the future then, there is one glaring issue that jumps out at me as being the most obvious and most important to address if we’re going to leave our sons and daughters with, at the very least, the same opportunities for happiness and comfort that we have enjoyed: climate change.

The question that I am confronted with is: What if climate change is occurring? According to a 2009 poll detailed in Forbes, 97% of climate scientists believe that it is.

So, if climate change is occurring, is mankind mostly responsible for that climate change? According to that same poll, 84% of those scientists believe that is the case, and only 5% believe that it is not.

Obviously, I am not a climate scientist. I am not part of the scientific community whose purpose is to analyze land and ocean temperatures, atmospheric readings, and sea ice loss. I have not seen the data. The only thing that I can base my viewpoint on is deciding whether it is likely that mankind’s burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, etc. has led to a changing climate. Based on the poll data that I’ve just cited and the logic of the greenhouse gas theory, to me it does appear to be likely.

But what about the effects of this climate change? Some may argue that the climate may be changing but that the effects themselves will be limited. According to that same poll in Forbes, 85% of scientists believe that climate change will prove to be at least moderately dangerous over the next 50 to 100 years.

So, if we are then mainly responsible and if the vast majority of climate scientists believe that the changing climate will, to put it conservatively, bring moderate danger to our future way of living, don’t we have an obligation to address this issue? If we are going to leave the world to our children, shouldn’t we do everything in our power to ensure that their world is just as habitable as ours has been?

I have looked at this from every angle I could think of, and there is no other conclusion that I can reach: the answer must be yes.

We have that obligation, and we, as Americans, have the biggest responsibility in limiting the damage that climate change will bring. Currently, America as a nation is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China. On a per capita basis, we are also second, behind Australia. But I think cumulative emissions is the most telling stat; from 1850 to 2007, America was responsible for 28.8% of the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. Second was China with 9.0%.

Now, obviously the historical data is not exact and is based on conjecture, but anyone looking objectively at history should arrive at the conclusion that the United States has been the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, regardless of what the exact number is. We have been the world’s largest economy since the early 1900s, which means we have been at the top of the list for greenhouse gas emissions for decades. Even today, although we are only 5% of the world’s population, Americans use roughly 25% of the world’s energy.

We must, therefore, take responsibility for our actions; we have consumed without limitation and have enjoyed lives of ease and comfort. If we wish our children to have the same opportunities for happiness and security, then it is our duty and obligation to lead the world in limiting the effects of climate change.

What should we be doing? We should be pursuing renewable energy sources above all others. We should be raising the fuel efficiency standards on our cars. We should be installing solar panels on our homes wherever possible. We should be doing anything and everything we possibly can, even if our economy slows down some and even if we have to pay a little bit more for our energy. We have led the world in consumption; now it is our turn to lead the world in sacrifice.

This should not be a political issue; both Republicans and Democrats should embrace this policy, as it is America’s responsibility, more than any other nation, to ensure that the effects of climate change are limited. If we do not, then it will be our children, living in a future world which we might not even recognize, who will look back at us and wonder: why didn’t they do something when they could have?