Opinion by Rachael Ali, Head Writer for Foreign Affairs
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Our oceans have absorbed 28% of carbon dioxide released by human activities, making bodies of water everywhere more potent and acidic (US Environmental Protection Agency 2021). An area the size of New Jersey was illegally deforested in the Brazilian Amazon, which has devastated indigenous communities and wildlife. Coral skeletons are absorbing microplastics (Dzombak 2021), and if that isn’t daunting enough, the Environmental Science and Technology journal estimates that humans can consume up to 74,000 microplastic particles every year (Gibbens 2019). How will these unnatural changes to our planet affect human health? What about our animal populations? Can minority indigenous communities survive these drastic changes? How long will it take for rising sea levels to overtake entire countries? Climate scientists can predict these answers, and they have published countless studies and policy suggestions. They have largely fallen on deaf ears.
China burns over half of the world’s annual supply of coal (Heinberg 2022), India is home to 63/100 of the world’s most polluted cities (Igini 2023), and air pollution in the United Kingdom contributes to 40,000 premature deaths a year (Carrington 2022). American officials like to point fingers and blame other countries for poorly managing the climate crisis, but how does our government truly compare?
In last year’s 117th Congress, 139 out of 535 elected officials (~25%) refused to acknowledge the existence of climate change (Drennen & Hardin 2021). It is important to note that these 139 representatives have collectively received $61 million in lifetime contributions from the coal, oil, and gas industries. It is also important to note that these 139 officials make up 52% of House Republicans and 60% of Senate Republicans (Drennen & Hardin 2021). This does not come as a surprise, considering that former President Donald Trump openly stated that climate change is “nonexistent” and “an expensive hoax” (qtd. Cheung 2020). Trump’s statements turned into policy when he withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, which aimed to keep the rising global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius. Trump also replaced former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which would have limited carbon emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants. Trump’s proposed replacement, the Affordable Clean Energy
Rule, had far weaker regulations (Cheung 2020).
But surely under the Biden Administration the US has spearheaded the fight against climate change as promised in the Democrats’ platform, right?
At the end of 2021, President Biden signed an executive order to “reduce emissions across federal operations” and “invest in American clean energy industries” (qtd. Heinberg 2022). Fast forward to March 2023, Biden has approved the Willow Project, which is the biggest oil drilling project that Alaska has seen in decades. Environmental and indigenous groups have been protesting this project for years. Following this announcement, two lawsuits were filed against ConocoPhillips, the company in charge of the drilling. The project is estimated to produce 180,000 barrels of oil a day. This quantity of oil would result in the emission of at least 263 million tons of greenhouse gas in the next 30 years (Thiessen & Brown 2023). Indigenous groups in Alaska will be the hardest hit, and three leaders of the Nuiqsut tribe detailed their concerns in a letter addressed to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland—a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo and the first Native American to lead a Cabinet department. These Nuiqsut leaders wrote that the American government is risking “the loss of [their] health and culture” (qtd. Thiessen & Brown 2023), as climate change has already disrupted caribou migrations. Caribou are essential to the Nuiqsut diet, and the sustainable hunt is part of their indigenous tradition.
However, many other countries have been far more proactive in mitigating their impact on the climate. These countries come in two categories: small nations with very low energy consumption and emissions and larger nations with more consumption but a higher commitment to implementing climate policy. The first category includes countries like Bhutan and Suriname, as they are already carbon neutral or aim to be before 2050 (Heinberg 2022). The second category includes countries like Denmark (Esty 2021), Costa Rica, and Morocco (Mulvaney 2019).
Another nation in the second category that has made strides in the fight against climate change is Norway. Their most recent parliamentary election was held in 2021, and the result was a win for a coalition between the Labour and Centre parties led by Jonas Gahr Støre. This coalition won with a clear focus on climate change and oil, specifically addressing Norwegians’ concerns regarding global warming and the loss of jobs that will result from the country moving away from oil production. Moreover, Norway’s oil production makes up over 40% of its export revenues (Reuters 2021). In fact, Norway has become Europe’s biggest supplier of oil since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Lundgren 2023). Despite this economic success, Norwegian citizens and many major parties have voiced their desire to make a larger shift to renewable energy, such as offshore wind power.
In Norway, 98% of their power comes from renewable energy sources, with hydropower being the main source and wind farms coming in second (Ministry of Petroleum & Energy 2016). Equinor, the company behind the success of wind power in Norway, has also been selected to provide New York State with a wind farm, which will be the largest renewable energy acquisition in the US (Equinor 2021).
However, no country is perfect, and Norway has come under fire as recently as March 2023. Europe’s largest onshore wind farm, owned by Norway, Switzerland, and Germany, was built illegally on traditional Sámi territory (Ahtone 2023). The Sámi are an indigenous group and ethnic minority in Norway who have been consistently discriminated against for centuries. This illegal wind farm is interfering with the Sámi’s sustainable hunt of reindeer, thus disrupting their traditional way of life (Ahtone 2023).
All in all, some leaders around the world are implementing environmentally friendly policies, but ignoring ethnic minorities and indigenous communities. These populations have proven themselves to be the greatest stewards of their lands, so a step in the right direction could be to have officials who cannot be bought as well as more indigenous representation in governments across the globe.
Rachael Ali is a third-year undergraduate student at BU, currently serving as Happy Medium’s Head Writer for Foreign Affairs. She is originally from the Bronx and is majoring in political science with a double minor in Spanish and French. Rachael’s goal is to attend law school and become an international lawyer. This past summer, Rachael was an intern political journalist at Happy Medium. Topics that Rachael is passionate about include immigration, reproductive rights, indigenous communities, gun laws, and environmental justice.
Ahtone, Tristan. 2023. “In Norway, Indigenous-led protests against a wind farm heat up.” Salon, March 6. www.salon.com/2023/03/06/in-norway-indigenous-led-against-a-wind-farm-heat-up_partner/.
Carrington, Damian. 2022. “Dirty air affects 97% of UK homes, data shows.” The Guardian, April 28. www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/apr/28/dirty-air-affects-97-of-uk-homes-data-shows.
Cheung, Helier. 2020. “What does Trump actually believe on climate change?” BBC News, January 23. www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-51213003.
“Climate Change Indicators: Ocean Acidity.” 2021. US Environmental Protection Agency. www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-ocean-acidity.
Drennen, Ari and Sally Hardin. 2021. “Climate Deniers in the 117th Congress.” Center for American Progress, March 30. www.americanprogress.org/article/climate-deniers-117th-congress/.
Dzombak, Rebecca. 2021. “Corals may store a surprising amount of microplastics in their skeletons.” Science News, November 29. www.sciencenews.org/article/coral-reef-microplastics-skeletons.
“Equinor selected for largest-ever US offshore wind award.” 2021. Equinor, March 16. www.equinor.com/news/archive/202101-us-offshore-wind.
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Ingini, Martina. 2023. “5 Biggest Environmental Issues in India in 2023.” Earth.org, January 9. earth.org/environmental-issues-in-india/.
Lundgren, Kari. 2023. “Norway’s Cash From Direct Oil and Gas Ownership Hits Record.” Bloomberg, March 14. www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-03-14/norway-s-cash-flow-from-direct-oil-and-gas-ownership-hits-record.
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“Renewable energy production in Norway.” Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, Government of Norway. www.regjeringen.no/en/topics/energy/renewable-energy/renewable-energy-production-in-norway/id2343462/.
Reuters. 2021. “Norway’s left-wing opposition wins climate-focused election in landslide, starts coalition talks.” NBC News, September 14. www.nbcnews.com/news/world/norway-s-left-wing-opposition-wins-climate-focused-election-landslide-n1279109.
Thiessen, Mark and Matthew Brown. 2023. “Willow oil project approval intensifies Alaska Natives’ rift.” ABC News, March 16. abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/major-oil-project-approval-intensifies-alaska-natives-rift-97901015.
“Why Denmark Wants to Be a ‘Frontrunner’ in the Fight Against Climate Change.” 2021. Yale School of the Environment, September 28. environment.yale.edu/news/article/why-denmark-wants-to-be-a-frontrunner-in-fight-against-climate-change.
“2022 Report Cards.” 2023. GovTrack.us, February 12. www.govtrack.us/congress/members/report-cards/2022.
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