Powered by IR Society at NYU

IR Insider is a production of NYU's International Relations Society. Our goal is to explain and discuss issues in IR in an engaging and thought-provoking fashion. We are written by students, for students, about issues students care about. 

America First: An Obstacle to Addressing Climate Change

At this point in your life you have grown accustomed to a nomadic lifestyle. Bits and bits of the ground underneath you break apart each day, and with each rising and setting of the sun, there is less room for you to pace back and forth to try and figure out how you could possibly survive once the terrain beneath you disappears forever. Sadly, you may have guessed what this description refers to. You know the polar bear as the poster child of climate change. Let’s hope that despite the rise of powerful voices denouncing the science, you will expand your knowledge of melting glaciers onto some of the many other variables.

Polar bear tries to gain steady ground on delicate sea ice.  Photo: Mario Hoppman/ Global Climate Change

Polar bear tries to gain steady ground on delicate sea ice. Photo: Mario Hoppman/ Global Climate Change

Climate change is not a pop culture phenomenon to keep the public preoccupied nor is it a political issue to be used to punish or reward individuals because of their affiliation as liberals, conservatives, or independents. The air that we breathe, if left in the hands of uneducated and careless leaders will harm everyone’s health and ability to function and collaborate in society. President Trump serves as a perfect example of a person undereducated on the issue of climate change. In a now infamous tweet written back in December 2017, the president argued “perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming” referencing temperatures on the East Coast reaching new record breaking levels of cold. Trump does not understand that though the planet will warm as a whole, individual regions may suffer extreme temperature changes in either direction.

Unfortunately, President Trump’s verbal denial of climate change is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding how such a rejection of science can have global, detrimental effects. Back in 2017, the president withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement, arguing that the accord would hurt the US economy. Such a nationalistic stance ignores the fact the United States produces the second highest carbon dioxide emissions globally, only second to China. The United States is such a crucial player in the role of climate change reform that their lacking presence will hinder its safety as well as the health of neighboring countries. 

President Trump announcing his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord back in 2017.  Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/ Washington Examiner

President Trump announcing his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord back in 2017. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/ Washington Examiner

Because Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, it should come as no surprise that he did not attend the UN Climate Summit on Tuesday, Sept. 23, instead opting to spend the day attending a religious freedom meeting. More recently, an executive order signed by the president on Sept. 27, dropped two federal advisory panels: The Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee and Invasive Species Advisory Committee. The reasoning is similar to that for pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord — the United States administration cites over 400 million taxpayer dollars being spent to continue the committees and considers them out of date or redundant.

In order to oppose climate change, it is not always a viable solution to depend on our national leaders to establish a progressive precedent. Sometimes, we as ordinary citizens must bring such positions to our leaders through our own actions. I want to move the conversation away from analyzing President Trump’s blunders, because though he may be the climate denier with the highest profile, he is far from the only one. Youth activists like Greta Thunberg and Benji Backer who spoke at the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis on Sept. 18 are great examples of ordinary citizens imploring politicians to take action. The Youth Climate Strikes that have occured for a consecutive number of Fridays also show the power of political participation.

I would like to think people who support cageless meat companies and recycle can become catalysts for change to others in their communities. However, it’s no secret that the sustainability movement would move at a far more exceptional rate if large corporations, with buying power from millions of consumers, joined the effort. Unfortunately, it is clear these major businesses are only interested in company moves that will be the most profitable, so until they can figure out such a motive, we as citizens must resort back to some type of governmental call to action.

One of the most important things Americans should do right now is work on strengthening sustainability within their local governments. There is a common notion that someone who wants to solve a problem should take their complaint “straight to the top” and immediately address leaders working for the federal government who supposedly possess the most power. Let us not forget a strong district will make for a stronger city, county, state, and nation. 

Therefore, I must stress the importance of revitalizing your local community. Figure out how to convince your neighbors and coworkers to support small and mid-level farms that produce organics and are not industrialized by corporations. Research the restaurant you plan on eating at to see if the seafood promotes fisheries that unnecessarily waste their products. Begin solving issues with a grassroots approach; once a solidified “mob” has been created, mayors, governors, and senators — people with governmental authority will have no choice but to take accountability for their apathy and will hopefully make the right decisions from there. After all, a protest is only as strong as its ability to persuade a leader of the necessity to implement change. With that, we can save the polar bear species and so many more.