Made in America

I recently finished reading Our House Is on Fire, an autobiographical account by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and her family. It was a hugely engaging book for me, both as someone deeply concerned about climate change, as well as an individual with Asperger syndrome, the same autism spectrum disorder with which Greta has been diagnosed. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in either of these topics.

There was one section of this book that stood out to me in particular, regarding Sweden’s failure as a nation to properly confront its role in the climate crisis:

“No one talks about the fact that Sweden’s ecological footprint is among the highest in the world. No one breathes a word about the fact that, since international flights aren’t counted by official statistics, a bus trip between Sandviken and G–vle produces higher emissions than a round trip to New Zealand in business class. Just like ocean freight or goods we import from other countries.”

“‘Sweden is too small,’ say the politicians who represent the majority of the voters. ‘It’s better that we try to influence others.'”

Sweden is indeed a relatively small country, with a million or two fewer people than the state of Ohio. What’s remarkable about this passage, to me, is that the U.S., the third largest country in the world, routinely tries to emulate the exact same arguments as Sweden, the 91st largest country.

Our method of choice, when confronted with the urgency of climate change, is to point fingers at China. Our current President even goes so far as to say that the entire worldwide community of climate scientists is wrong, and that climate change is in fact a sprawling Chinese hoax, designed to accomplish- what, exactly?

More commonly, though, we point to the fact that China is the world’s number one emitter of CO2. Which is true, but the U.S. comes in second place in this ranking (we in fact held the number one spot until 2006), and China’s population is over four times our own, with emissions only twice as high as ours. We have them beat handily when it comes to CO2 emissions per capita.

The incontrovertible truth is that the U.S. has contributed vastly more to climate change than any other nation since the start of the Industrial Revolution, with our historical emissions amounting to nearly twice the level of China’s in total. We therefore have an outsized responsibility to act in preserving our planet for future generations.

But instead, we prefer to keep on playing this suicidal game of chicken, refusing to come to the table on emissions at every possible turn. “When China does something, maybe we’ll think about doing something,” we say, entirely without conviction.

We no longer have times for these games, or for this completely childish behavior. We must act now. America still has the opportunity to become a global leader on climate, but only if we begin treating this crisis as a crisis, and not just another geopolitical game of chance.

Aaron Dunbar



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