By: Michael Aprea
This essay is in response to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs video “Climate Protectionism and Competitiveness.”
Steam put the world in motion. It lit up the night, and tightened humanity’s grasp on the forces of nature. Nature, however, has eluded the human race and has forced civilization to reconsider its power in the most fundamental sense. Scientist, politicians, and citizens now face the heat as they scramble to address a cycle of global warming spawned by the progress of the industrial revolution that threatens to unhinge the fragile balance of Earth’s ecosystems. Reducing carbon emissions has been the answer to the problem. This standard that has taken hold in developed nations has morphed into a global economic crusade against carbon emissions through regulation, taxation and sanctions seeking to curb the emissions of the developing world. Although consumer responsibility and global collaboration in an endeavor to reverse global warming trends are laudable, it is important to recognize the risks these steps pose on global trade, the citizens of developing countries, and the debt developed nations have as beneficiaries of the first fruits of fossil fuels.
The United States owes its status as an economic superpower to the progress of the industrial revolution; a revolution fueled by carbon emitting fossil fuels. The rapid growth of nations such as Unites States reliant on fossil fuels came at price–rising global temperatures. Carbon doesn’t only heat up cold economies, it also has the ability to raise average global temperatures as it gets trapped in the atmosphere and captures solar radiation. These shifts in temperature have precipitated evident changes in the environment. Recent glacial melting, super storms, and inflated and more rapid extinction rates can all be traced to these rising temperatures. In response, the United States and other developed nations have sought alternative fuels to reduce carbon emissions. These measures entail large investments of capital, and higher costs of production–a reality that makes production in underdeveloped nations more cost effective and foreign products cheaper. This reality, coupled with policies and regulations that seek to reduce carbon emissions through taxation and sanctions on developing nations still very dependent on fossil fuels, raises a host of ethical questions–particularly regarding the right and motive a developed nation has in enforcing such measures.