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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Sustainability is on the way, with or without SCOTUS

On Feb. 9, the Supreme Court halted President Obama’s latest carbon emissions regulations, pending some questions on the legality of the regulations under the Clean Air Act.

According to a New York Times article, the regulations aimed to cut U.S. carbon emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025. Emission limits on power plants and cars are the main targets of Obama’s reduction plan. While 27 states, including Kentucky, and some corporations have called the regulations illegal and introduced bills in opposition to the plan, other states like California, New York and Washington have decided to begin working toward compliance immediately.

This ruling affects more than just the U.S. The regulations and reductions Obama proposed stem from the Paris COP21 climate meeting of December 2015. At that conference, hundreds of countries pledged to reduce their carbon emissions, including India and China, two major sources of emissions. Yet if the U.S. fails to pass any legislation and does not move toward reducing emissions, other countries might follow our poor example.

This problem is not a new one. In the 1990s, the U.S. never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, another global climate change agreement. Our failure weakened the Kyoto Protocol immensely. We could see the same fate for the Paris Agreement if the U.S. does not step up.

Yet not everyone thinks the health of the climate rests on the U.S. government. Donald Falk, an UA associate professor researching climate, adaptation, governance, law, policy, natural environment and biodiversity, was part of the UA delegation to COP 21 last year. He spoke recently as part of a panel on COP 21, and he said that no matter the Supreme Court ruling, he doesn’t think that the Paris Agreement will fall apart.

His reasons? According to Falk, climate change has become so pressing an issue that even the actions — or lack thereof — of the U.S. won’t sway other countries with so much of the public advocating for sustainability. In the past, as with the Kyoto Protocol, the U.S. was a major player, and our failure to ratify it changed everything. Now, Falk believes, even if we do nothing to change and continue our crash-course emissions levels, other countries will simply ignore our poor choices and work toward a cleaner future.

On this point, I agree. The world as a whole can no longer close its eyes to the changes we’ve forced on the planet. People have noticed, and they’re speaking up. If they encounter an uncaring government, they start a grassroots organization and take care of problems themselves. Individuals are taking initiative and if enough people choose a path of sustainability, it’s only a matter of time before their governments have to follow, or risk losing public support.

Even with the Supreme Court’s decision, many states have chosen to follow the Paris Agreement on their own. Enough altered parts will eventually change the whole, so even if the Supreme Court does strike down the proposed regulations, it won’t mean an end to a greener U.S. future, and it won’t be a death blow to the Paris Agreement.

We always speak of a tipping point in the environment, a point past which there will be no turning back, no reversing the effects of climate change. We have arrived at a social and political tipping point. People of the world will no longer stand idly by and watch the destruction of our planet. They will petition, they will protest and they will enact change with their own hands if need be.

Unfortunately, Arizona is one of the states that has filed a legal motion in opposition of the emissions regulations. As a prominent university and with the background of the UA’s delegation to Paris, we have a chance to help our state and country make the right choice. Why are we opposing measures that will only improve our future? Arizona has the resources and the ability to switch a majority of our power needs to renewable energy sources like solar power.

When our lawmakers fail to represent our best interests, it becomes necessary to represent our own interests. We need to reduce emissions, comply with the Paris Agreement and do our individual parts in working toward achieving sustainability.

Speak up. Act. Let the world know that we’re not going to be the ones left in the carbon dust this time.

Follow Marissa Heffernan on Twitter.

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