Global Climate Change, Cities, and the Presidential Campaign
By Alex Gable
Perhaps especially if you live in a city with its urban heat islands hotter than surrounding areas, on or near a coast, underneath even a thin blanket of smog, you need to be concerned about the commentary in U.S. politics on the subject of climate change.
Summers in the city are already hot – but according to the EPA, average global temperatures are expected to increase from 0.5°F to 8.6°F by 2100, with the lower end representing the most aggressive mitigation efforts. Average sea levels are expected to rise anywhere from approximately 4 inches to 5 feet by 2100, depending on mitigation levels. Such sea levels could flood parts of many coastal cities, perhaps even submerging a few.
If that isn’t concerning, then consider that pollution will continue to increase, leading to more respiratory problems among humans, especially in cities. There will be an increase in severity and frequency of severe weather events, including hurricanes like Sandy, which did enormous damage to New York City, and droughts at levels 2 and 3, which the usually wet areas of the Northeast are facing this year.
Add the increasing frequency of fires like those around San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and city life could begin to look like hell on earth because of climate change. The devastation will be most prominent in and around cities, where there are high densities of very diverse populations of humans, as well as large amounts of pollution already. If you need an example of pollution taking its toll, look at Beijing, Mexico City, New Delhi, and (increasingly) Los Angeles and New York.
According to the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), sea levels have risen by approximately 0.2m, almost 8 inches, since 1900, temperatures have risen approximately 1.0 Celsius, and global carbon dioxide emissions have risen approximately sevenfold. Climate change is happening.
So let’s see what the candidates are saying: In 2012, Donald Trump tweeted, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Similar skepticism can be seen in his more recent tweets, but since beginning his campaign, Trump has announced more concrete plans for his climate change policy. In a speech to the North Dakota Petroleum Council in May 2016, he said he would “cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.” This would not spell a good future for climate change containment efforts.
Hillary Clinton has said that “Climate change is real and we can save our planet while creating millions of good-paying clean energy jobs.” Clinton has proposed plans to combat and mitigate climate change. In 2016, Clinton notes that she “will launch a clean energy challenge to partner with states, cities, and rural America to accelerate clean energy deployment, building efficiency, and clean transportation.”
Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, has expressed an interest in a less-intrusive plan: taxing carbon emissions. He prefers a carbon tax because he believes “that it can accomplish all these things in a very free market way.”
In 2015, President Obama said, “No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” I’d add that no challenge poses a greater threat to cities than climate change.
Alex is a junior physics major at Ithaca College. He plans to go to graduate school to pursue a degree in astrophysics. He is from Owego, NY. In his free time he likes playing video games with friends when he's not going on hikes and enjoying nature.