Share blame for the world’s climate shame

Credit: Braden Kelner/Forum Editor Credit: Braden Kelner/Forum Editor
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An article published in last week’s issue of The Tartan titled “Address global warming to sidestep dire effects” stated that people of first world nations must aid those whom they have affected, seeing as first world nations have contributed most of the pollution that is perpetuating global warming.

But who is to blame for this climate change? Most would point fingers at these so-called first world nations and with due cause. According to CNN, 20 percent of the world’s wealthiest nations are responsible for 80 percent of global emissions. Meanwhile, the one billion poorest people in the world are responsible for a mere 3 percent of global emissions.

Evidently, wealthy nations contribute most to environmental degradation while developing countries are doomed to experience the worst effects of climate change. In fact, University of California, Berkeley professor Richard Norgaard said on CNN that the environmental debt the world’s wealthiest nations owe to the poorest exceeds the estimated third world debt by over $4 billion.

However, when discussing environmental degradation, individuals must be considered above nations. Carbon footprint levels do not travel with national identity, but they might very well come paired with a person’s income.

Developing nations such as China, India, and Brazil are producing millionaires at increasingly higher rates. The rise of these new rich, coupled with the expansion of middle classes in developing countries, has dangerous implications for the environment. Increases in standard of living — modeled after Western consumer culture — must be tied inexorably to high levels of consumption. In addition, the two most prominent developing countries — India and China — are home to over 35 percent of the world’s population, according to the International Business Times. There is real immediate danger in these nations aiming to live like Americans; population blog Per Square Mile says that if everyone did, we would need about four planet Earths.

Ultimately, many environmental problems are beyond the scope of a single nation. Policing the world’s greatest common resource — the ocean — is impossible without collaboration, and who can say where one nation’s air stops and another’s begins? Most other limited resources only fall under the jurisdiction of a nation through the luck of geography. All efforts to save the environment must therefore be collaborative, with countries working together to salvage the only planet they will ever have.

Still, many developed nations have a habit of standing apart from the pack in negative ways. The United States is notorious for bowing out of international environmental treaties, most memorably the 1997 Kyoto Treaty for reducing carbon emissions. America was one of few industrialized nations not to ratify, and the treaty suffered a serious blow to its clout without the backing of such an internationally crucial player.

Clearly, developed nations must tackle their own lacking environmental policies before citing any kind of moral obligation to help developing countries rise to their level. This idea of a moral obligation suggests that the United States and similar nations intrinsically know much better than the leaders, scientists, and activists of a nation what is best for their nation’s development, which is hypocrisy on an extreme scale.

America remains the nation with the largest carbon footprint per capita by carbon dioxide emissions — a position it has held without shame for decades, according to Although China takes first place for carbon emissions overall, China is distinguishing itself as impressively progressive in dealing with the environmental consequences of rapid industrialization. No other evidence can better disprove the insulting idea that developed nations somehow owe developing countries their expertise on matters of environmentally sustainable progress.

Perhaps placing blame is pointless. It certainly wastes time that could be better spent by taking a hard look at how our own actions are impacting the environment. After all, if individuals can hold great responsibility for degrading the environment, they also have the power to enact lasting positive change.