The primary cause of the “failure” in creating an all encompassing climate regime to limit the release of carbon emissions into the atmosphere can be traced to the fact that the main players (i.e. the countries that have the greatest amount of carbon emissions) refuse to enter into a binding agreement that enforces such an action.
The basis behind limiting the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere can be traced to one particular concept, namely: that carbon emissions caused by human industrial activity causes global warming and, as such should be addressed due to its adverse impact on the climate.
It is with this in mind that the Kyoto Protocol (created on December 1997) was envisioned in order to bind states towards a multilateral endeavor to reduce carbon emissions through more efficient and less environmentally damaging practices (Muller, Mendelsohn, and Nordhaus 1650).
These aspects could have been achieved through the implementation of stricter environmental compliance regulations as well as requiring companies to utilize production processes that release fewer greenhouse gases. However, when examining the means by which these aspects could be implemented within the U.S., it was discovered that despite being one of the largest producers of carbon emissions in the world, the U.S. has implemented few internal policies to actively curb such actions.
This is one of the reasons why the current climate change regime can be considered as a “failure” since one of the largest sources of carbon emissions refuses to limit its production of greenhouse gases in order to conform to the principles outlined within the Kyoto Protocol. It is with this in mind that this paper will delve into the various factors that prevented the U.S. from limiting its carbon emissions.
Through this investigation, it is expected that a greater overview will be developed regarding the failure of controlling carbon emissions within the U.S., what policies have been attempted in order to address the issue and possible solutions that can be implemented.
Issues with the Differentiated Responsibilities Principle of the Kyoto Protocol
One of the main reasons that America refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol was due to the differentiated responsibilities when it came to the type of member state that was a party to the treaty. Simply put, while countries such as the U.S. were expected to reduce their carbon emissions by 30 to 40 percent within the span of a decade, developing countries were not subject to the same strict protocols and were given some leeway when it came to their carbon emissions.
The reason behind this level of apparent discrimination was connected to the fact that the economies and industrial capacity of developing countries were still in their infancy and lacked the robustness seen in regions such as North America and Europe. As such, subjecting them to the same standards would have resulted in an economical burden that they simply could not cope with from a financial standpoint.
On the other end of the spectrum, arguments when it came to this level of discrimination focus on the fact that developed countries such as the U.S. produce a majority of the carbon emissions being released into the atmosphere and, as such, should be subject to stricter emission protocols since a reduction in their emissions would have a more pronounced impact on reducing carbon emissions on a worldwide scale.
However, what the argument for the level of discrimination levied against the main carbon emitting countries fails to take into consideration is the international relations theory of Realism and how states act within the arena of bi-lateral and multi-lateral interactions (Muller et al. 1650). This theory specifically states that within a realist system, states are unitary actors that pursue a strategy of self-interest.
What this means is that a state would not willingly enter into an agreement where they would be subject to a potentially adverse situation if they have the option not to. In other words, unitary interests are more likely to occur for states wherein they would only enter into a bi-lateral or multi-lateral agreement if they are able to get a considerable benefit out of it.
In fact, international relations theorists even go so far to state that when subjected to a situation where one state would gain more from a bi-lateral or multi-lateral agreement as compared to another state, it is likely that the secondary participant in the treaty would not agree to it despite the fact that both participants would benefit from it (Muller, Mendelsohn, and Nordhaus 1650).
This is due to the perception that the benefits they accrue is less than what the other party to the agreement is getting and, as such, goes against the concept of focusing on unitary interests. When taking these factors into consideration and examining the context by which the Kyoto Protocol was framed and its focus on common yet differentiated responsibilities, it becomes immediately obvious that the U.S. is unlikely to ratify such an agreement based on the precepts of realism since they lose more than what they gain from ratifying it.
While it is true that the U.S. would benefit from lower global carbon emissions, the fact remains that it would lose more than it would gain. Thus, when examining the issue from this context, it can be seen that it is the principles behind the Kyoto Protocol that have a discriminatory nature to them that resulted in one of the biggest greenhouse gas producers refusing to accede to its protocols.
Environmental Policy Implementation
One of the main problems when it comes to the stance of the U.S. on limiting carbon emissions is that while there are a lot of policy initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the country, there is a considerable lack of policy implementation. For instance, from 2003 to 2011, there have been policy initiatives such as the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act of 2007, and the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.
All of these policy initiatives focused on reducing carbon emissions by requiring stricter environmental policies, the removal of fuel inefficient vehicles, and the implementation of “greener” methods of production in factories as well as an increase in taxation for companies that contribute heavily towards the total carbon emissions of the country. If these initiatives had passed, they would have resulted in a considerable reduction in carbon emissions that would have been in line with the metrics set by the Kyoto Protocol.
However, the aforementioned initiatives “died” so to speak when presented before the American Congress and Senate. This is despite the fact that the adverse impact of climate change is a widely known fact among members of the America’s governing body. Further examination of why these initiatives were not put into effect despite the overwhelming evidence in support of their implementation comes in the form of the various lobbyists attempting to influence politicians.
Studies such as those by Fann, Fulcher, and Baker show that lobbyists from the oil and gas industry pool their resources together in order to “kill” policies that would negatively impact their normal business operations (Fann, Fulcher, and Baker 3580). What must be understood is that while the various elected officials are supposed to have the best interest of the people they represent at heart, the fact remains that their opinions are often swayed by lobbyists that offer to sponsor these elected officials in their next election campaigns.
The end result is that votes for or against particular propositions are often determined by the strength of the lobby behind these policy initiatives. Though, it should be noted that if there is a sufficiently large level of public support behind particular policies, most senators and congressmen would vote for these changes.
However, when it comes to the stance of the American public on climate change, it is actually surprising to note that nearly 45% of the general public within the U.S. actually doubt that carbon emissions actually contribute to climate change and the resulting erratic global weather patterns that it supposedly brings about (Froehle 11).
The reason behind this surprising statistic can actually be traced to a large scale misinformation campaign that Froehle explains has been propagated by various members of the oil and gas industry as well as by various other corporate entities.
By ensuring that there is a sufficiently large amount of individuals that doubt the veracity of climate change experts, this ensures that there will be insufficient levels of public support that would go behind policy initiatives that would hamper their operations (Froehle 11). Inevitably, what happened was that despite the numerous attempts at enacting sufficiently broad carbon emission limitations, there have been few successful attempts that have resulted in actual changes.
Influence of the U.S. in International Relations
As the world’s number one economy, the U.S. has a considerable level of influence on other members of the international community and it is due to this that its current stance on reducing carbon emissions could have negative ramifications when it comes to how likely other global economies are willing to follow the principles of the Kyoto Protocol.
First and foremost, it is important to note that due to its current size and the sheer number of interconnected industries within the country, the U.S. can often dictate the way in which the global economy will proceed when it comes to particular trends in production and sales. Simply put, by virtue of its size, its industries and the level of consumer demand within the country, many countries around the world are dependent on the U.S. and tend to “follow its lead” when it comes to their own domestic policies.
It is with this in mind that the fact that the U.S. continues to refuse to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and its stance on carbon emissions has actually resulted in many countries being “slow” so to speak when it comes to the goal of reducing their carbon emissions. For instance, Jintai states that despite the efforts of the Kyoto Protocol to lower the amount of global carbon emissions, there are many states, such as Russia, China and India that have actually increased their level of carbon emissions rather than reduced them.
This is in part due to their current prerogatives of increasing their economic competitiveness yet it is also due to the fact that the U.S. is also similarly foregoing such a strategy in favor of saving and growing its local industries (Jintai 1736).
While it is true that there are policy initiatives that have been developed in these countries to help reduce the total environmental impact of industrial operations (such as the EPA “Environmental Protection Act” in the U.S.), the fact remains that lowering carbon emissions has yet to be a primary domestic issue within the aforementioned countries. This is due to the fact that the various industries within these states tend to “follow the lead” of their American counterparts which inevitably results in them focusing on production methods that maximize profit despite the potential environmental backlash.
Tarr postulates that if the U.S. was to implement stricter carbon emission controls and focused on ensuring local companies complied with such requirements, this would create what would be known as “international standards in corporate activity” which would result in more countries and companies around the world implementing a similar operating structure (Tarr 107).
Unfortunately, as indicated in the previous section on policy developments within the U.S., this is unlikely to happen and, as a result, the current state of affairs involving the control of carbon emissions will follow the lead of the U.S. resulting in the issue continuing to exist for years to come.
Possible Impact of Carbon Emission Reduction on the U.S. Economy
Aside from the factors that have been mentioned so far that have contributed towards the failure of implementing a broad carbon emissions reduction within the U.S., one of the other reasons behind the failure of greenhouse gas reductions is connected to the potential adverse reaction these policies could have on the U.S. economy as a whole. First and foremost, it is important to note that industrial manufacturing is one of the cornerstones of the economic capabilities of any country.
Without it, a country would be unable to have a thriving populace that would enable the government to collect sufficient tax income. The larger the local industrial base, the greater the economy of that country which results in numerous beneficial effects for the local population (ex: low rates of unemployment, more opportunities, etc.). As the world’s number one economy, the U.S. has one of the largest industrial bases in the world that supplies not only local demand but international demand as well.
However, over the past two decades, this aspect of the U.S. economy has been threatened by the practice of outsourcing wherein companies transfer their factories to locations such as China, India and Bangladesh. The reason behind such a practice is simply due to the concept of “economics of scale” wherein production in the aforementioned countries is simply cheaper due to lower labor costs, better tax rates, more affordable utility expenses, etc.
It is due to this that China has actually grown to become the second largest economy in the world due to the fact that it simply possesses the capacity to produce products at a far cheaper rate as compared to the U.S. With many U.S. based corporations outsourcing their production capacity to China, any subsequent increase in the cost of doing business within the country would result in an increase in the amount of companies that would outsource their manufacturing sectors to other countries.
What must be understood is that the implementation of stringent carbon emission regulations, as per the Kyoto Protocol, would require the implementation of costly changes to the current manufacturing processes of companies within the U.S. as well as an increase in the taxes levied against companies that excessively release carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
The end result is the creation of a costly environment for manufacturing which would further increase the likelihood of companies outsourcing. What is likely to occur in such a scenario is a decrease in the amount of jobs for American citizens which would put an additional tax burden on the country due to the amount of welfare that would be paid out.
Resolving the Issue
The best way to resolve the current issue of excessive carbon emissions in the U.S. is to focus on addressing it from a “grass roots” perspective rather than from an international or economic one. When taking into consideration the millions of tons of carbon dioxide that private vehicles release annually within the country, a reduction in their usage would help to reduce their adverse impact on the environment and would subsequently lower the total amount of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere.
It should be noted though that the concept of going green is based on the process of altering approaches towards the consumption and utilization of resources. If more middle to high income workers within the U.S. were to use public methods of transportation instead of their private vehicles, then the amount of carbon emissions in the skies of America could be cut by as much as 40 percent.
Such a reduction could have considerable benefits for the local population of the country when it comes to reducing the number of health related issues connected to carbon dioxide inhalation, the smog that appears in cities such as Los Angeles and New York as well as the adverse weather patterns brought about by carbon emissions in the air.
When examining the current reasons behind the prevalent use of private vehicles within the U.S. despite the presence of affordable public transportation, the main reason behind this consumer choice was traced to the overall comfort that consumers got from using their own cars.
For example, at the present many people acknowledge that wasteful energy usage is detrimental for the environment since the main source of energy of the country is through the consumption of fossil fuels. Despite this acknowledgement, few people within the U.S. are taking active steps to actually reduce their carbon footprint despite the serious environmental and safety concerns of continue fossil fuel use.
The reason behind their continue behavior is simply the modern day comforts they have come to enjoy that are powered by electricity. It is based on this that this report proposes the creation of a program to convince people to become more environmentally conscious.
One way in which such a program could be implemented would be to attach tax credits to the level by which people proved that they utilized public transportation. First and foremost, it is important to note that people are more likely to recycle, buy items that were created through environmentally sustainable methods and reduce their carbon footprint if they achieved some sort of extrinsic reward for the action.
In most cases this came in the form of government tax refunds or other forms of monetary savings that people would obtain from using such services or products. It is based on these examples that a primarily extrinsic based strategy focusing on incentive based rewards will be utilized in order to create a habit of utilizing public transportation into middle to high income workers within the U.S. through the use of tax credits.
The primary message that this behavioral change program will attempt to impart is that using various means of public transportation is just as effective and as comfortable as compared to using a car to go to work. In fact, given the fact that some busses get exclusive use of lanes and trains go above the traffic of the main roads of the city, this means that they can get to work a lot faster and at a more affordable rate as compared to primarily utilizing their private vehicles as their main means of transportation. The result would be a lowering in the overall amount of carbon emissions released without a negative impact on the industrial capacity of the country.
Based on what has been presented so far in this paper, it can be seen that the trend of competitive industrialization has brought with it significant adverse effects which has resulted in not only the destruction of local ecosystems in the name of progress (i.e. clear cutting forests, dumping of factory waste in rivers, unsustainable farming practices, etc.) but has actually impacted the climate of the Earth as a whole through global warming.
Increased temperatures as a result of carbon dioxide gas in the air from industrial processes has been blamed for erratic weather patterns which have caused stronger storms, droughts, as well as the deterioration of natural environments seen in the case of the melting polar ice caps. The inherent source of the problem is not the process of industrialization itself but the attitudes many societies have developed in response to the supposed “necessity” of reaching the goal of “modern day success”.
This is particularly troublesome when taking into consideration the difficulties involved in a conjoined societal effort to implement new practices of sustainability when there is mutual distrust as a direct result of the social stratification brought about by industrialization.
Based on the various arguments presented, it can be seen that it is not the process of industrialization itself that has led to unsustainable practices and the deterioration of the global environment, rather, it is the perspective of the government and the general public that the need to industrialize in order to achieve what is perceived as a modern day lifestyle supersedes the ramifications associated with rampant carbon emissions that are released into the atmosphere.
Hopefully, if the recommendations that have been outlined in this paper can be implemented, sufficient changes can be enacted in the future to help the U.S. reduce its overall level of carbon emissions. If not, it is unlikely that any global initiative towards greenhouse gas reduction will ever be truly effective.
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Froehle, Kristin. “The Economics Of Environment In Hoosier Nation.” Indianapolis Business Journal 35.16 (2014): 11. Print
Jintai, Lin. “China’s International Trade And Air Pollution In The United States.” Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America 111.5 (2014): 1736-1741. Print
Muller, Nicholas Z, Robert Mendelsohn, and William Nordhaus. “Environmental Accounting For Pollution In The United States Economy.” American Economic Review 101.5 (2011): 1649-1675. Print
Tarr, Joel A. “Toxic Legacy.” Technology & Culture 55.1 (2014): 107. Print