Just when you thought he had stepped out of the political arena for good, Al Gore has made a roaring comeback – and this time, he’s gone Hollywood. The 2000 presidential candidate headlines a documentary about his pre- and post-Washington career titled “An Inconvenient Truth.” And the truth Gore tells is that while America is a major contributor to the rapidly decaying atmosphere, the government has been negligent in creating any significant attempts to curb air pollution.
While Gore’s expectation that his documentary will inspire national interest in pollution and global warming may be too ambitious, the message the movie sends is right on target: The growing pollution problem – what he calls a “planetary emergency” – must be addressed. America is perfectly capable of using its resources to control its emission of harmful gases and to work with other nations to keep the planet healthy for future generations. But alas, money and denial stand in the way of employing such capabilities.
As the nation with the highest gross domestic product per capita and also the highest emission of greenhouse gases in the world, America has still been unwilling to designate more monetary resources to fight air pollution. No amount of evidence has managed to convince the Bush administration that the benefits of signing onto environmental initiatives – namely the Kyoto Protocol – outweigh the economic costs.
The Kyoto Protocol was developed by the United Nations in 1997 and signed by 165 nations, committing them to reducing harmful gas emissions and participating in emission trading. The protocol has been projected to cut gas emissions by 29 percent by the year 2010. While then-Vice President Gore signed the protocol, it was only a symbolic gesture of dedication to work on creating safer air in our country. Only when the protocol is ratified by the individual nations does it come into effect – and America and Australia are the only nations who have not joined in ratifying the agreement. The reason Bush has given for refusing to accept this protocol is that it is not economically efficient and the lack of participation from developing nations could put economic strain on America. However, the government has taken no alternative steps and remains unresponsive to growing environmental threats.
The second roadblock – denial – is a little harder to overcome. Despite considerable data demonstrating that carbon dioxide levels have risen by up to 30 percent in the earth’s atmosphere and the significant evidence that this increase has led to global warming, some people are still not willing to accept that steps need to be taken to reverse this trend.
Most notably, the Competitive Enterprise Institute is opposed to further governmental restriction of CO2 emission levels. The institute, which refers to CO2 as “lighting up our lives,” produced commercials opposing political initiatives to restrict its emissions, saying, “Carbon Dioxide. They call it pollution. We call it life.” The Bush administration has also had its doubts that cutting greenhouse-gas emissions will lead to any significant environmental impact – it paints global warming as junk science. In 2002, President Bush outrightly rejected the notion that human activity, such as increased automobile use, contributed to climate changes.
While speculation that global warming and gas emissions have contributed to the recent slew of natural disasters and unseasonable weather all over the world is as of yet unproven, it’s hard to deny that such a rapid increase in emissions is negatively affecting our environment. Scientific evidence shows that average temperatures are projected to rise as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the turn of the next century.
It’s a shame that environmental action is a partisan issue. Democrats and Republicans both breathe the same air, and only if the federal government steps in to combat rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions will we maintain an ample supply of fresh air for everyone to breathe. America cannot simply rely on state governments and grassroots initiatives to combat rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions. While it may not make immediate economic sense, money won’t matter when there is no more fresh air. And, as Al Gore eludes to in his documentary, recent natural disasters may only be the beginning of what mother Earth is capable of doing.
Kennelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.