Radwan: We need a practical approach to tackle climate change

Aziz Radwan, Staff Columnist

President Joe Biden recently announced that the U.S. is committed to cutting greenhouse emissions in half by the end of this decade as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. He also added that “This is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of a climate crisis … We can’t resign ourselves to that future. We have to take action, all of us, and this summit is our first step on the road we’ll travel together.” His announcement sounds more ambitious than the one made by President Barack Obama in late 2009 at the Copenhagen Summit where he pledged a 42% emission cut by 2030.

Climate change is a broad, complicated topic. Reducing greenhouse gases requires serious commitment by both developing and developed countries. The reason we haven’t seen enough progress by world leaders is primarily because there hasn’t been enough global investment in green energy which can replace our dependence on fossil fuels.

How well is the U.S. performing in the global green economy? According to the 2018 Global Green Economic Index (GGEI) published by Dual Citizen LLC, the U.S. ranked 31st globally. GGEI assesses the performance of each country based on leadership and climate change, markets and investments, efficiency sectors and the environment. The top three countries in the 2018 GGEI index were Sweden, Switzerland and Iceland. You may wonder why Switzerland, for example, has outranked the U.S. Well, for one, Switzerland has one of the world’s highest waste recycling rates; more than 50% of its waste is recycled. Another reason is that the average Swiss citizen prefers traveling by train for daily commuting and the country predominantly uses hydroelectric energy to generate power.

I’m not suggesting the U.S. government should exactly follow suit. My point is that the Swiss government has capitalized on its country’s potential and invested in their green economy so far. That is why it is one of the world’s leading green countries.

An important topic that should be addressed to tackle greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by vehicles. A typical passenger vehicle emits nearly 4.6 metric tons of CO2 annually and Americans used 142 billion gallons of motor gasoline in 2019. What can the U.S. government do about these big numbers? They can collaborate with business leaders to invest in electric vehicles to make them affordable and reduce total gasoline consumption. 

The unit price of current electric vehicles is high compared to their gasoline-powered counterparts. You can barely find a new electric vehicle that costs less than $40,000. Until electric vehicles become affordable and there are sufficient electric vehicle charging stations, there will likely be no consumer behavior change. This is an understandable decision. I myself won’t buy an electric vehicle until I’m confident it is affordable and its charging and maintenance costs are less than that of a gasoline car.

Another green investment that the government should focus on is solar power. So far, California leads the nation with the most photovoltaic capacity of 26,000 megawatts. California is also enforcing a minimum of 80,000 new solar systems to be deployed each year. I believe if states such as Texas, Nevada, Florida and Arizona enact a similar solar mandate, then solar power will gain traction and have a ripple effect on other states. Ultimately, this will result in generating more renewable energy across the country.

Additionally, the waste recycling system in the U.S. needs to be drastically improved. There is no federal law that mandates recycling. Sustainability professor Stephanie Kersten-Johnston said “Recycling decision-making is currently in the hands of 20,000 communities in the U.S., all of which make their own choices about whether and what to recycle. Many stakeholders with many different interests converge around this topic and we need to find common ground and goals to avoid working against one another.” Kersten-Johnston’s statement implies there is a lack of central management and ill-coordination, impairing the efficiency of recycling. The waste recycling system cannot be achieved by merely raising awareness or having a federal recycling program that minimizes conflicts, but there also should be a recycling market that profits from recycling. That way, we will see a recycling industry that will likely make recycling more sustainable nationwide.

The U.S. government, lawmakers, business leaders and individuals should realize and believe that when the economy goes green, it not only helps save our planet, but also helps drive economic growth, create jobs and achieve sustainable development. I’m happy that President Biden has announced his plan to take action on the climate crisis. However, I hope he adopts a more practical approach than his predecessors in order for this country to substantially improve its GGEI ranking by 2030.