Dormroom Debate: The struggle over climate change
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    In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama insisted that the federal government must take great pains to help curb global warming and invest in renewable energy. But is this a worthwile usage of time and money, or is it just more government waste? Our writers face off. Photos of the authors by Sunny Kang / North by Northwestern.

    Photo by Sunny Kang/North by Northwestern

    I’m a Medill sophomore double majoring in American history and I’ve been liberal as long as I can remember.

    While growing up in the far suburbs of New York City in a devoutly Democratic family that certainly has its influences, the ideas of my parents’ party have always just made sense to me, even when we’ve butted heads about just how far these ideas should be taken.

    To me, it makes sense to have a government that invests in and financially protects its citizens as long as they meet their end of the bargain. It makes sense to me to have a government that guarantees not only freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion. It makes sense to me to have a government that’s more concerned with preserving peace than projecting power. 

    But more than anything, I believe if politicians focused more on the good of their country and less on the good of their party, the actions that they’d take would make a lot more sense. 

    Government spending can work wonders when done effectively. But you can spend as much money on education as you want. You can buy as many missiles, build as many bridges and grant as much research money as the treasury can afford. Yet, there will never be anything more important to the safety of this country than protecting the planet we live on.

    There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that points to a warming planet – a trend that is wreaking havoc on the country. Within the last 15 years, we've seen 12 of the hottest years on record. Wildfires, droughts, hurricanes and tropic storms are becoming not only more frequent, but also more damaging financially. And as if that wasn't enough reason to believe in the problem of climate change, a 2010 study revealed that 97-98 percent of climate scientists believe that climate change is precipitated by human activity.

    Even so, prominent Republicans continue to ignore how detrimental carbon emissions are to the world we live in and instead harp on the economic harm environmental regulation allegedly does to the American economy. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) apparently thinks we live in an ecological bubble, insisting that "America is a country, it’s not a planet. So we can pass a bunch of laws or executive orders that will do nothing to change the climate or the weather but will devastate our economy." 

    Then there are politicians who think that the Environmental Protection Agency is overregualting energy to the point where the economy is being destroyed. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) lists "restrain[ing] abusive environmental enforcement" as an integral part of his economic plan, claiming that "tens of thousands of jobs will be lost and America will be left even more dependent on foreign dictators for our energy needs" if the federal government bans hydraulic fracking.

    Their guiding motto is somewhat simple: It doesn't matter what we do to the planet as long as we can still make money before it gets destroyed. But what these politicians don't realize is that by developing sources of renewable energy, the federal government can help revitalize the economy that's still struggling to recover from the recession of 2008.

    A December 2011 study conducted by George Mason University found that between 2003 and 2010, the renewable energy industry added close to 500,000 jobs to the American economy.

    While the industry's rate of expansion (3.4 percent) lagged behind that of the economy as a whole (4.3 percent per year) for that time, it expanded at an even greater rate (8.3 percent) during the recession. This was helped in great part by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more commonly known as the stimulus package. And because these sources of energy are renewable, they will help stabilize prices.

    Naturally, creating the infrastructure for a conversion to green energy will take time and money, but that's exactly what drives the engine of economic growth. From research and development comes construction and maintenance. From construction and maintenance comes jobs. From jobs come growth, and from growth comes a stronger economy.

    Just as important, though, is the impact a switch to green energy will have on the environment. First and foremost, switching to solar, wind, geothermal and other such sources will help drastically reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, gasses responsible for global warming. Also, these sources are renewable, meaning that they will never run out and never need to be fought over.

    The federal government has two choices: It can invest in cleaner energy, a resurgent economy and, most importantly, a safer planet, or it can neglect the overwhelming verdict of science, continue to favor dirty, exhaustible fossil fuels and destroy the only planet we have. 

    The choice seems fairly obvious to me.

    Photo by Sunny Kang/North by Northwestern

    I’m a Medill freshman from Cleveland, Ohio. I consider myself very socially conservative, and my Catholic upbringing certainly helped shaped this. My individual life experiences and introspection have strengthened these foundations, so my beliefs are the product of both religious and personal means. 

    I am slightly more moderate when it comes to fiscal matters, but I still fall within the realm of conservatism. Both my dad and maternal grandfather lost their fathers at a young age, so their stories of hard work and self-determination to make their own living have inspired me. I firmly believe in the power of the human spirit, and the oft-cited Chinese parable of “Give a man a fish...teach a man to fish...” perfectly sums up my belief on the government’s proper role. I am not opposed on principle to most federal programs, but I believe that their aim should be to make themselves unnecessary over time. The government should focus less on instantly solving its citizens’ problems and focus more on helping the people forge their own solutions.

    President Obama's second term will be filled with major issues such as the end of the war in Afghanistan, the fiscal crisis and immigration. Given all of these expected massive undertakings, I am confused as to why Obama is placing such a high priority on climate change.

    I am a strong proponent of a clean planet, and we have a moral obligation to keep it safe by not polluting. But this should be common knowledge to all Americans, and whether or not our behavior causes "global warming" is of little consequence. We can take the steps to adjust our lifestyles without the government spending billions of taxpayer dollars on researching the validity of a scientific theory.

    At the end of the month, an estimated $46 billion will be cut from the defense budget. Although governmental spending needs to be cut from somewhere per the sequester, I am appalled that the Pentagon is a primary target.

    The U.S. government currently spends more than $3 billion a year on funding climate change research in other countries, not to mention the costly initiatives already in place here in America. Although President Obama called global warming the “overwhelming judgment of science,” the decade-long argument between scientists over the question of humanity’s impact on the climate suggests that the answer is far from a sure bet.

    Obama mentioned at his State of the Union that the “12 warmest years on record” occurred within the last 15 years. This statistic has two main rhetorical flaws. First, it presumes that the methods we have for measuring average global temperature are representative of the entire world. Most of the recording stations are located either in or very near large cities, and it doesn’t take Al Gore to tell you that more pollution and electricity are generated in urban areas. This leads to skewed data toward metropolises instead of the whole globe. 

    The second concern is the fact that 20 years amounts to absolutely nothing when compared to the vast history of our meteorological history. This is another case of humans overestimating their impact on this planet. Our species has been around for an estimated 100,000 years, which seems minute compared to the 4.5 billion years that Earth has existed. Put simply, discussions of the Earth’s patterns and trends should be spoken of in terms of millions of years, not decades. Often forgotten in the discussion of CFCs and melting ice caps is the fact that we are still emerging from a period of extreme cold.

    The last Ice Age on Earth finished about 10,000 years ago. This might seem like an extremely long time ago, but consider the fact that it lasted 100,000 years. The Earth is currently in a period of warming, but it is obvious that, following a period of colossal freezing and glaciation, the Earth’s temperature will rise as it moves itself out of the Ice Age. Our civilization happens to be situated in a period of warming, and the Earth would act this way whether or not we even existed. 

    Things must be done to stop pollution and other nature-harming activities. But does that mean that our government should be spending billions of dollars every year on researching a scientific theory which likely has nothing to do with our lifestyle? Absolutely not. The government has the right (and I would even say duty) to encourage citizens to engage in behaviors that respect nature. But this does not cost billions of taxpayers of dollars. Rather than cut funds from our important defense budget, President Obama should start with slashing this superfluous research. 

    The initiatives to create a greener economy and less dependence on fossil fuels are inherently beneficial to our future. But these issues do not carry the same immediacy as the financial and domestic issues plaguing the country right now. 


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