Eight years after its creation, the Kyoto Protocol will go into effect today, commiting 141 countries to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. Although today is momentous for climate-change activists and the global community, Feb. 16, 2005 must also remind us of the United States’ failure to appropriately address global warming despite our status as the largest global emitter of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide.
As British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said, “I think the blunt reality is that, unless America comes back into some form of international consensus, it is very hard to make progress.” The United States’ refusal to commit to Kyoto prevented the protocol from going into effect for years, and demonstrates to the global community an obstructive reluctance to make any strong goals toward carbon dioxide reductions. Instead, President Bush wishes to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions per dollar of economic output by 18 percent from 2002 to 2012. This target will not provide any actual decrease in U.S. emissions, as the economy is expected and encouraged to continue its growth. However, there is no time to waste. Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced now.
The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects a global average temperature rise of 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius (2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit) in the next 100 years, which will be the largest century-warming in more than 10,000 years. The research and reports revealing the existence, anthropogenic roots and dangers of climate change are widespread. Projections of climate change include the IPCC’s estimate of the flooding of 70 to 200 million peoples’ homes by coastal storm surges, and the World Health Organization’s estimate of the deaths of 300,000 people annually due to climate change by the year 2100. This does not even consider the projected deaths and extinctions of plant and animal species that cannot adapt to climate change the way that humans, particularly Americans, can. The areas that will be hit the hardest — in arctic, equatorial and coastal regions — are the least prepared for these effects. And even the United States Department of Defense has announced that climate change should be “elevated beyond a scientific debate to a U.S. national security concern.” Unfortunately, it is clear that President Bush has no intention of doing so.
This is no excuse for the rest of the United States to wait for his support. If Washington will not step up to the enormous challenge that is curbing global climate change, we must do it ourselves. Connecticut must continue its work as a leader in greenhouse gas regulation and reach the standards set in the Climate Change Action Plan that went into effect yesterday. This plan commits Connecticut to improvements in vehicle emission standards, upgraded building codes and increases in the renewable energy supplied to the electric grid. Released the day before Kyoto goes into effect, Connecticut’s strong statement must be backed up with strong actions.
As an institution, Yale also has a responsibility to work toward this change. We must take a strong stand on reducing our own greenhouse gas emissions. This does not mean simply “supporting” Kyoto, but taking strong actions that will prove economically beneficial to the school while decreasing our environmental impact. Yale must commit to purchasing or generating 20 percent of our energy from renewable sources by the year 2010 — something Connecticut and the city of New Haven have both already pledged to do. This will not only improve our greenhouse gas emissions, but support Connecticut clean energy suppliers. Furthermore, Yale must commit to efficient building construction and renovation in the form of LEED silver status (the third-best designation on the U.S. Green Building Council’s environmental sustainability rating system) for all new Yale construction. Finally, Yale must use transportation that produces less carbon dioxide by agreeing to buy the most fuel-efficient vehicles for its purposes.
A recent Yale Scientific article (Winter 2004) reported that 96 percent of science faculty respondents believe “the U.S. must reduce its fossil fuel use.” Seventy percent believe climate change is the most important environmental problem, and 73 percent believe the United States should ratify the Kyoto accord. The U.S. government continues to ignore the urgency of the climate crisis, but Yale cannot ignore the crisis, its own faculty or its students. We demand clean energy, and we know that Yale can, and must, be an environmental leader on climate change. President Levin, we cannot wait for President Bush: We must take the first step.
Caroline Howe is a sophomore in Saybrook College. She is a member of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition and the Climate Campaign.