The Fight Against Climate Change

Second Prize, High School Category, Essay Contest 2015

February 23, 2016

Dheera Vuppala

Dheera Vuppala, 15 years old, is currently a sophomore at Nashua High School South, New Hampshire, USA. Growing up in a family where education was a priority and where it changed the lives of many, she aspires to teach the value of it to at-risk students. By taking steps in this direction, she hopes that it will lead to education for all in impoverished countries across the world such as India, Nigeria, and the Middle East. Dheera hopes to convey the message that education is more than the core subjects, and rather that it should allow you to stand up for your beliefs. She is also passionate about politics and economics.

ESSAY TOPIC: Sustainable Development Goal #13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Propose specific measures for your country (or region or city) to reach the goal’s objectives in the next 15 years.

Dinosaurs, once thought to be the most capable and intelligent animals to ever walk the face of the Earth, were wiped out due to geological events. Fast forward 60 million years and humans are the most advanced race, distinctly characterized by their speech ability. It seems inevitable that humans will, likewise, suffer a mass extinction, but humans being held responsible for their downfall was unthinkable, that is until now. The human race is ignoring all warning signs of the impending threat to civilization, climate change, through their deplorable actions. In 2015, it was 70 degrees Fahrenheit on Christmas Day in Boston. This abnormal temperature concerns the majority of the global population. To add fuel to the flame, scientists have predicted that at the current rate, 100 million and counting could be dead by 2030 all as a result of climate change. 2030 is only 14 years away. You and I may very well be alive so it's not a question of whether or not to combat climate change but rather what steps the United States, a leading force in the fight against climate change, can take to tackle this rapidly rising threat.

The threat of climate change is growing more serious than ever because of unusually high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This prevents heat from being reflected back into space, allowing for warmer temperatures here on Earth. This phenomenon is better known as the greenhouse effect. As a nation, climate change must be tackled, without altering the quality of life. To accomplish this goal, there are three tasks citizens and policymakers around the country must confront. First, the federal, state, and local governments in collaboration with each other must block industries from emitting huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Second, it is vital that consumers/households reduce the amount of electricity they use. Last but not least, public and private companies as well as the government must research cost-effective renewable energy sources.

The first, and most urgent task the United States must accomplish is to reduce carbon emissions coming from industries. Industries account for 21 percent of total carbon emissions in the U.S. To reduce industry emissions there are several policies, the U.S. can administer. These include the cap and trade system, an effective carbon tax, and promoting efficient technology. With the cap and trade system, the government puts a limit on the amount of emissions allowed, "the cap," and divides that amount among each industry/company. The cap and trade system allows each industry to have an entity that describes how much carbon they can emit. If a certain industry emits less than its allocated amount, then it can sell its allowance to another company. This creates a market for carbon emission allowances. Having a cap and trade system works well because if a company is able to reduce their emissions to less than what they are allotted, they have the choice of selling their allowance in return for money or any other form of payment, "trade." Also certain industries that find it hard to lower emissions can buy allowances to give them more flexibility. Whatever happens, only a certain amount of carbon can be emitted. This limit can be lowered each year. The cap and trade system is the most flexible and economical way to lower emissions. It has worked previously to decrease the amount of acidic rain and it can be used again to fight climate change. Also, a common yet effective method involves implementing the carbon tax. The carbon tax is basically a tax placed on the amount of carbon emitted by each company. It's simple economics—as the company emits more, the tax goes up and as the tax goes up companies will have an incentive to lower the amount of carbon they emit. The revenue from the carbon tax can be used to lower other taxes on companies so that it doesn't burden the company with a numerous amount of taxes that can have a negative economic impact. Last but not least industries can lower emissions by using more efficient technologies. Many industries, in order to save costs, are still using older machines that emanate more carbon than the newer technologies for the same output. To encourage companies to switch to newer technologies the government should provide subsidies for new machinery. This would solve the problem of costs for companies, cancelling out the negative impact of the expensive machinery.

Even with all these policies large amounts of carbon will still be emitted, so lawmakers have a responsibility to implement policies to counteract the huge amounts of carbon emissions. Policies can be passed in Congress that require each industry to plant a certain number of plants in proportion to the amount of carbon they emit. The issue lies in the fact that the faucet is larger than the drain—the faucet being carbon and the drain being plants. If there are more plants in the surrounding environment then the carbon will be absorbed by the plants.

In the fight against climate change everybody has a part, including consumers and households. On a daily basis consumers and households use electricity for lights, technological gadgets, cooking, etc. All this electricity is produced through power plants with the most common one usually being coal. Coal power plants are the nation's top source of carbon dioxide emissions and one typical coal plant releases approximately 3.5 million tons of CO2. By reducing the amount of electricity residential homes use, less electricity will be generated leading to lower carbon emissions. There are many steps the government can take to persuade consumers to lower the amount of electricity they use. Households can install more efficient appliances such as the new refrigerators that don’t use as much electricity to run, and new windows that keep the cold air out. This way the heater doesn't have to run as much resulting in a lower amount of electricity being used. The U.S. federal government can provide tax breaks to households that take these steps by allowing the money spent on these appliances to be tax-exempt. Second, the government can educate people on the simple things that will help to lower the amount of electricity used such as turning off the lights, and the TV. These may seem cliché but if everybody acts on them, then it will make a dramatic difference.

The last and final task this nation must accomplish is to encourage research in methods to harness energy without endangering the environment. Simply put, the United States needs to use renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and biomass rather than coal which, according to the EIA, currently accounts for 39 percent of our total energy source. Unfortunately, coal releases large amounts of carbon into the air—the major cause of climate change. But coal is also the least expensive energy source, driving businesses to use coal rather than renewable energy sources to expand their profit. Since they see no benefit in using renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and biomass, companies don't tend to use them. Research needs to be conducted to establish cost-effective ways to implement renewable energy sources so that small, new businesses as well as the large, old businesses can participate in the fight against climate change. The U.S. government can encourage research by providing tax incentives to public and private limited companies along with providing funds to government agencies that conduct research in the fields of renewable energy. By encouraging research to find more efficient and cost-effective ways to use renewable sources, the United States can be the leading country in the journey to using more renewable sources.

Although the government does play a large role in encouraging research, the free market with no government intervention would eventually spur interest in companies to research less harmful ways of generating energy. This is led by the fact that eventually companies must find a new source of energy in order to stay in business and meet future demands, since coal won't be around forever. Also if climate change reaches a point where it leads to the next mass extinction, renewable energy sources must be available, so companies, thinking about the future, will begin to research with or without the help of the government; but this isn't to say that the government isn't helpful to reach this goal.

Climate change is happening. Nine out of ten scientists say it is. The United States has to deal with it, so let's carry out the job of stewards of the Earth and take the proper steps to fight climate change. It's as simple as that. Limiting industries' carbon emissions, lowering households' use of electricity, and researching and switching to renewable energy forms are only a few of those significant steps. Over time, if we, as a nation, take these steps and more, we will reach the top of the staircase where Earth will be safe from environmental threats.

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