While U.S. lawmakers have the final sign-off on environmental laws, the wellbeing of the environment rests in the people’s commitment to sustainability.
In 181 countries, some 5,200 actions were carried out involving an estimated 100,000 people calling for a reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to 350 parts per million – the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In Philadelphia, more than 350 people gathered to form the numbers 3-5-0 in a symbolic gesture on Independence Mall – the birthplace of democracy in the U.S.
Using our democratic rights to show lawmakers that we support action to address climate change is crucial, especially with wealthy polluters staunchly opposed.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, long a stronghold of dirty energy industries such as oil and coal, continues to resist climate-change legislation aimed at reducing U.S. CO2 emissions, opposing the American Clean Energy and Security Act, now before the U.S. Senate.
The chamber, along with many Republicans, claims the climate legislation will cost Americans jobs and economic viability with other nations.
Bryan Mann, a sophomore Jewish studies major and Students for Environmental Action member, instead views climate change legislation as an economic opportunity.
“Green jobs can help boost the economy,” Mann said.
In an effort to highlight the utter hypocrisy of the chamber’s stance against climate legislation, Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men, a “culture-jamming” collective that’s made its name mimicking high-profile politicians and corporate leaders, impersonated a U.S. Chamber of Commerce spokesman on Monday, Nov. 2.
“Without a stable climate, there will be no business,” Bichlbaum stated in the hoax.
But the Yes Men couldn’t be more right.
Neoclassical economists do not believe it necessary to consider the environment in the realm of economics, and free market ideology discourages government regulation to protect the environment. Because these economists create most federal economic policies, it is more profitable to allow pollution than to divert costs into more sustainable production. The current business-environment relationship is literally to “bite the hand that feeds you,” as all business depends on a stable and productive natural environment.
One of the casualties of this economic system is the atmosphere. As a result of unchecked fossil fuel combustion, the world’s atmospheric concentration of heat-trapping CO2, is 390 parts per million – 40 parts per million more than what leading climate scientists around the world recommend.
“When you have externalities like environmental problems, the government has to intervene in the free market,” said Amy Sinden, associate professor of environmental law at the Beasley School of Law.
Right now, two opportunities to regulate externalities, or CO2 emissions, are on the table – the Clean Energy Act, currently before the senate and the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December, where U.S. leadership is needed to reach an international agreement on reducing emissions.
While the 350 action and current legislative opportunities are inspiring, in exercising our democratic rights, we cannot allow a single piece of legislation or a target number to distract us from the bigger picture – sustainability. A shift in values, from short-term profits to a long-term wellbeing for the majority, sustainability is moving our economic idea of wellbeing from corporate gains to equilibrium of public and environmental health.
Emily Gleason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.