In December of 2007, 100 prominent scientists wrote an open letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. This letter downplayed humans’ ability to effect climate change, and called on the U.N. to pay more attention to combating “natural” climate changes, while shying away from combating the effects humans are having, because – according to them – those effects are grossly exaggerated and, as such, the adverse effects from regulation and reform would be unjustifiably negative; I disagree.
While it is true that natural climate change phenomena occurs, this letter severely underestimates human processes with respect to their effect of climate change in the environment. To support the claim that natural climate change occurs, evidence of the early Earth and the massive continent we call Pangea can be a paradigm. Tectonic shifts and a gradual change of atmospheric content over time (millions of years) represent the natural change of the Earth’s terrestrial climate. The claim that humans do not have any effect on accelerating a climate change process, however, is false. Evidence can be found in the general atmospheric concentration of CO2 over post-industrial time, the acidification of our oceans, and in the recession of many “permafrost” ice structures within a time-span of only a few hundred years.
The letter goes on to assume that by attempting to cut emissions and reduce human impact on climate, our economy will slow and people will suffer more because of that reduction in economic development. This claim is not entirely true. Creating a sustainable economy and lifestyle for the world’s human population will very likely see declines in some areas of the economy. However, new markets and technological processes will undoubtedly develop and continue to provide humans with the energy and resources needed to maintain progress. As a result, much of our current environment and the non-human ecologies that occupy it can be preserved without a significant change in human lifestyle.
Finally, the letter states that fighting climate change “is distracting governments from adapting to the threat of inevitable natural climate changes, whatever forms they may take.” Mandating emission standards, subsidizing renewable energy production, and providing incentives for everyday people to reduce their own emissions are all possible mandates of climate change reduction. It is a conservationist idealism mixed with functional economics to provide both individuals and businesses the incentive to create sustainable economies that rely less on resources that are not renewable. As a result of these goals, we will gain an enormous ability to adapt to natural climate change, as well as reduce our own impact, which is currently accelerating that process.
The letter does bring up one legitimate question about the recent climate change initiatives. More specifically, the letter highlights the European market for emissions. The trading market can be remembered as a failure or a success depending on what research reports are highlighted. However, the facts that the market for CO2 has been attempted and that data has been collected makes a new system easier to create and monitor. Key elements to monitor are the overall allocations of emissions (not too high or low), reasonable price control for emission permits, and fraud. Like any other market, strict regulations are needed to ensure the viability of the market as well as prevention of those looking to take advantage of the system.