Two and a half weeks ago, Metronome’s 62-foot-wide clock face was doing the same thing it had done every day in New York’s Union Square for more than 20 years: telling the time. Now, it continues to do the same, but the numbers have changed. A few moments ago, the clock read 7 087 15 30 03. Seven years, 87 days, 15 hours, 30 minutes and three seconds until we must achieve zero emissions, according to calculations by the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate change. Inspired by the online Doomsday Clock, the initiative aims to “remind the world every day just how perilously close we are to the brink,” says Stephen Ross, chairman of Related Companies, the developer that owns One Union Square South.
This latest climate clock erected in New York, and other symbolic messages that undercut even the most valiant of efforts by policymakers and interest groups to develop solutions to mitigate climate change … These are all testament to the urgency of the climate situation and are a reminder that we cannot afford to fail. Thus, internally I commend those policymakers and officials who have channeled every ounce of their diplomatic and strategic prowess into negotiating treaties, agreements and policies, for though their efforts be insufficient, they manage to effect change despite the weight of millions resting on their shoulders, a weight none of us critical and high-minded citizens can claim to have born. Yet externally, I will continue to ask for the impossible from our leaders. Because the minute we back off, the minute we display complacency, is the minute we cease putting pressure on policymakers. That is the minute we fail.
Though current measures such as the Paris Agreement are insufficient to effectively combat climate change, they do reflect a level of decision-making that approaches global unification to care for citizens and the environment. There is a level of cosmopolitanism that is beginning to be recognized as essential on the international stage.
What can be done at present, given the current circumstances, political climate and players at hand? What policies or measures should be the next ones in the global fight against climate change? What is the right line to walk between ambitious and feasible?
As a leader in democratic efforts around the world, the United States has a responsibility atop the international stage to serve as a paradigm of sustainable efforts. We cannot continue to promote a standard of living that is contingent of the inability of millions to reach it. We must follow the successes of countries like Sweden, which has developed innovative solutions from waste-fueled heat and power plants, to low carbon usage and cars fueled by renewable biogas. It has ambitious goals embedded in its climate policy framework. It aims to achieve net zero GHG emissions by 2045 and a 70% reduction of domestic transport emissions by 2030. Present and future administrations are required to set long-term goals to reduce emissions.
Initial diplomatic steps must go beyond a reentry into the Paris Agreement. The United States must also demonstrate its commitment to holding the GHG-induced increase in temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius and pursuing efforts to limit increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It is imperative that temperature increase be kept at a minimum to give the highest chance at a sustainable future, both for the United States and for the world.
Those responsible for higher percentages of the accumulation of atmospheric GHGs that threaten the livelihoods of billions must take the largest steps to reduce their environmental impact. Further, developed states with higher economic stability should view it in their best interests to contribute to funding for developing states to implement mitigation measures. The United States falls into both of these categories. It should respond to efforts like China’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060 and prove to its people, and to the world, that it recognizes the importance of its role in the climate crisis.
No policy initiative is straightforward nowadays. What I suggest may seem impossible to many. But a few days ago I had the pleasure of speaking to Sarada Peri, former senior speechwriter to President Barack Obama and founder of Peri Communications. On speaking of the challenges of diplomatic efforts, she made a point that sticks between the eyes. The essence of it was this: As a policymaker you can either increase the level of political consensus to a higher ambition or you can lower your ambitions to meet a lower level of political consensus. This is a challenge. You can let that make you cynical or you can let that motivate you to find a solution.
Lucie Kniep is a junior at Notre Dame. She can be reached at [email protected]. BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. in the McNeill Room of LaFortune Student Center to learn about and discuss current political issues and can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @bridge_ND
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.