August 1, 2014
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Opinion

Guest Commentary: Environmental reform must follow United Nations report

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, overseen by the United Nations, released a truly horrific report this week on humanity’s future in relation to global climate change. The report states that human interference with the climate system is occurring and that climate change poses a risk for humanity and the world’s natural systems.

While the U.N. is consistently advocating for worldwide government policy changes, such as limiting greenhouse gas emissions, countries around the world, especially the United States, are slow to react and to make the changes necessary for human survival.

The U.S. government has still failed to sign onto the 1997 or the 2012 Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that requires signatories to reduce their carbon emissions, because of lobbying from American corporations benefiting from climate change. But such failures are leading to the major climate issues described by the U.N. in its report. These major climate issues have ramifications on all aspects of our world.

The U.N. predicts a large percentage of species faces an increased risk of extinction under projected climate change in the future, especially when climate change meets other environmental stressors like habitat modification, over-exploitation of resources, pollution and invasive species.

Ecosystems and the organisms living within them, however, are already being affected by the horrors of climate change. According to the World Wildlife Fund, between 10,000 and 100,000 species go extinct on Earth per year, which is 1,000–10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. Most of these extinctions are caused by deforestation, the death of coral reefs worldwide and extreme land erosion and degradation.

Instead of producing policies that will protect these ecosystems and organisms, however, the U.S. has discussed a bill that would halt the creation of new national parks and monuments, which protect American wilderness and its ecosystems. Many right-leaning representatives in Congress have attempted to halt this process because they believe the formation of national parks is occurring too frequently, despite the fact that Congress has not protected a single acre of public lands since 2009.

The U.N. report states that with increased warming, some physical systems may be at risk of sudden and irreversible changes. Ecosystems, private property and general infrastructure could be demolished by severe weather patterns or rising seas, which are, without doubt, occurring because of man-made climate change. Weather patterns and rising seas may displace millions of individuals who live on the coastline or below sea level. The U.S. has spent an exorbitant amount of money over the past decade on infrastructure repairs after storms but has not drafted policy to prevent the climate change that causes this damage.

The 68 many authors of this publication are in agreement: Unless we do something to halt climate change now, it will be too late if we wait any longer. With this report, the U.N. calls for all governments to accept climate change as fact and work to lessen their impact and their corporations’ impact on the environment. If industrialized countries like the U.S. do not begin prioritizing the environment and human lives above profit and growth, humanity may be irrevocably doomed to extinction.

This issue does not, however, merely stem from government. Each individual must make sustainable choices in their homes, when shopping and in their everyday lives, and Ithaca College must continue to find and embrace new ways to become more sustainable and eco-friendly. All members of society must now realize that we all must work to reverse climate change, so that life and human civilization shall not perish from the earth.