Every human being on Earth has a carbon footprint.
There are ways to reduce one's impact on the planet, such as driving a hybrid vehicle, recycling, biking to and from work or becoming a vegetarian and choosing only locally sourced food. Cities and world governments as well as major industries and businesses have also become more conscious about climate change or "global warming" and have implemented policies and programs to lower the amount of carbon dioxide they produce or release into the atmosphere.
Gernot Wagner, an economist at the Environmental Defense Fund and the author of the book "But Will the Planet Notice? How Smart Economics Can Save the World," truly appreciates the actions taken by individuals and a growing number of government bodies. But it won't be enough to save Earth, he says, and his latest book was written explicitly for the green community who "think they are making a difference."
"News flash: recycling isn't going to stop global warming," Wagner tells The Daily Ticker's Aaron Task in the attached clip. "All of these individual steps don't add up to nearly enough." Sea temperatures will continue to rise, extreme weather patterns will become the new norm and the slowing of Earth's rotation will persist as long as the major industrial nations bicker and contest serious climate change policy, Wagner says.
Critics and skeptics of global warming who doubt that human-related greenhouse gas emissions are heating up the planet have complicated global efforts to address these concerns.
In the United States, several of the candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination have openly mocked and refuted climate change science and analysis. Texas Governor Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have both stated they would close the Environmental Protection Agency. All of the Republican candidates want less, not more, federal regulation on greenhouse emissions. However, Wagner says climate change cynics must put aside their personal biases for the betterment of others — and the planet.
"This isn't a bunch of greens basically saying thou shall use canvas bags ideally sourced from locally grown cotton," Wagner notes. "Global warming is not a belief. The great thing about science is that it's true whether you believe it or not."
Climate change is not a relatively recent phenomenon. The noxious effect of global emissions of carbon dioxide on Earth was proven in the 1880s, states Wagner and the sacrifices made by individuals to lower their carbon footprint will not alter these grim statistics: every American emits an average of 20 tons of carbon dioxide every year (Europeans average 10 tons a year) which translates into $400 worth of damage per American (each ton of CO2 pollution causes $20 of damage to ecosystems and human health). Furthermore, according to an analysis by the Global Carbon Project, global CO2 emissions jumped by the largest amount on record in 2010.
There's only one solution to climate change, warns Wagner. "Policy. That's what makes the difference."
The Kyoto protocol, the 1997 agreement by major industrialized nations to establish targets on carbon dioxide emissions, has resulted in more frustrations than results, and its future remains in jeopardy without the ratification by the United States, the world's biggest polluter, who opposes the protocol for not including developing nations like Brazil and China in its emission requirements.
There may not be a global policy consensus on how to slow the heating of Earth's core, but Wagner points to several cities and nations who are instituting their own Earth-friendly rules.
Ireland introduced a 15-cent tax on every plastic bag in 2002 that ultimately led to a 90% reduction in plastic bag usage in just a few months time — or a savings of 1 billion bags per year. Last year Italy announced it would completely ban all plastic bags, and shoppers are now given a choice of cloth, biodegradable or paper bags in exchange. Washington, D.C. store owners charge 5-cents per plastic bag and other major U.S. metropolitan cities are trying to pass similar bag taxes.
Some industries are also taking pro-active approaches to climate change. Starting this year the world's biggest airlines will be charging Europe-bound passengers for their greenhouse gas emissions, which could add another $16 to the cost of a plane ticket. Climate change may be one of the most controversial issues facing world and business leaders but Earth's future, including all of its inhabitants, depends on the decisions made today.