Climate Change: it's everyone's problem

By Abby Volkmann ’13Environment Columnist One of the most enjoyable parts of being outdoors is realizing the rich history of each mountain, valley, tree, and insect. I am a lover of rivers; whether I am looking down at rushing water from atop a bridge or standing knee deep in an icy stream, the earth is telling me its story.

History is communal. That is, stories are not a result of individual experiences, but rather a collection of shared circumstances between places, people, and things. For instance, the Colorado River that runs through America’s southwest illustrates the geological history of earth’s crust, explains why we built cities in the middle of the desert, and justifies the region’s fauna because the river gives life in the form of food.

This lesson about the interconnectedness of history should be applied to climate diplomacy as well. The growing threat of loss and damage as a result of climate change is not the responsibility of an individual or even a nation. To overcome and deal with these changes, we must come together as one whole. The reality is that Earth is treated as one entity and each nation’s resolution to respond—or not—to climate threats will in the end be experienced communally, in the same way that streams come together to form a river that in turn becomes the ocean.

Last month at the annual UN climate change conference in Qatar, the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters—China and the United States—refused to sign the extension of the Kyoto Protocol in cooperation with 194 other countries. The omission of China and the United States from round two of the Kyoto Protocol may prompt a legal battle that would involve large corporate polluters as well as nations. The biggest disappointment is that countries that play large roles on the world’s political and environmental stage refuse to collaborate in a time when really, countries should be taking action together.

So here’s the question: Who exactly should be held responsible for climate change and the problems it is creating?

The answer? Everyone—especially the big polluter nations! To start, smaller nations could take action under the decree set by Article 14 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which gives member states the right to litigation for not adhering to obligations set by the convention. But perhaps making the issue of climate diplomacy a legal matter would divert it from where it needs to be, which is the international political economy.

There ya go.