International Implications of Climate Change

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Climate change is the inevitable result of the industrial revolution. Production on a massive scale led to pollution on a much greater level than humans were capable of before factories could belch tons of smoke into the clouds every day. In A History of the Climate, Jon Hurring writes, “As smoke stacks rose, so did carbon dioxide levels…with every tank churned out in each world war, the O-zone got a micron thinner…” (67). Everything that powered the industrial revolution helped power the growth of climate change. In the ensuing decades since the factory system first made its mark on the globe, mass production compounded on itself time and again, until modern day pollution levels cause problems with air pollutants most major cities.

The massive growth of the human population is certainly a contributing factor to climate change as well. People generate a vast amount of refuse. Meeting people’s various needs and desires requires a massive amount of work while simultaneously disrupting the planet’s natural ecosystem. Machines are working overtime to create, package, and ship every morsel of food and every material good. Each has its own small portion of the pollutants slowly clogging up the atmosphere. Janice Doyle composed the excellent Producing a Legacy: The Industrial Revolution’s Impact on the Modern World, and in it said, “While many see factories as symbols of economic or engineering achievement, global warming will be their legacy, and not the automobile or the vast machine of war” (144). The popular image of a factory has changed over the years, largely due to increased knowledge of working conditions. There is no doubt that time is going to offer another new perception, one more closely tied to global warming and climate change.

Unfortunately, while most people living in developed nations understand climate change is real and the situation is grave, those who don’t still have a large megaphone. In some situations, the few who are content to defy science, facts, and simple logic, have managed to wriggle into positions of power, and, from there, firmly entrench useless environmental policies that will do nothing to halt the spread of natural catastrophe. In 2009, Gerald Nelson, a climatologist, wrote in Climate Change: Impact on Agriculture and Costs of Adaptation, “…too many see climate change as either passing…or as an idea made up for political gain…faulty logic has led these people to the conclusion that the whole world is in on a conspiracy against them…” (18). The psychology at work is founded either on profound laziness or selfishness. Either way, it embraces ignorance as a shield against the tidal waves of cognitive dissonance any sane climate change denier is surely facing. It is difficult to combat such a closed-off worldview with facts, as the impulse to deny reality is usually based in a purely emotional response. Fighting pure emotion with fact is like trying to plug a fire-hydrant with a paper grocery bag. Direct personal consequences are the only things that change minds in situations such as this. As waiting for these consequences to kick in would mean waiting until the situation is too late to be helped, focusing any major efforts changing the minds of people who remain stubbornly opposed to the idea of climate change is a waste of time, energy, and capital. 

Luckily, most people live in reality and are in agreement that climate change is a significant problem, and many are taking real action in the fight to stop it. The U.S. federal government is sadly non-committal on climate change, as evidenced by recent withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords. However, big businesses have made commitments—beyond the low baselines required by the EPA, which are set to be rolled back—to limiting or eliminating certain especially-ghastly pollutants without state influence. The list of forward-thinking companies is long, but some major players include Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google, to name just a few.

It is encouraging to see so many powerful businesses in agreement; they are exhibiting the exact behavior necessary to get through this period. The government cannot be relied upon to steer the country clear of environmental blunders, so big companies can be the leaders the country needs. As unlikely as that may seem on the surface, there are two considerations which make a business-led green revolution possible. First, consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of environmental impacts of their actions and the actions of the companies they support with their patronage. If this awareness continues to grow, buying patterns may shift in favor of businesses that are green. As soon as it becomes less costly to spend money on more environmentally friendly practices than to incur the economic penalties of lost business, a massive shift will occur. The only thing that motivates a capitalist society like the promise of more money is the threat of less money. Customers can be environmental activists with their wallets, and companies will fall in line fast.

Second, as green technology spreads and becomes more sophisticated, it will become cheaper. The idea that green energy will cost more to use than conventional forms of energy will not be true for long. Wind and solar energy are already viable for some businesses; as they continue to advance, they will become the cheaper option (Bowen 4). Eventually, businesses that are determined to run on old forms of fuel will be the ones spending more. They will have to change their ways if they want to stay in business with other competitors that have advanced to newer types of energy. Free market competition will push all companies inextricably towards green technology. 

Although the environmental situation may seem bleak when looking at news of storms and unseasonable weather, or just learning about new cabinet appointees, big businesses may turn out to be the hero of the story for once. The robber barons during gilded age corporate hegemony are some of the most villainous figures in American history. However, their modern counterparts, other titans of industry, may end up setting the pace for a clean energy revolution. The evolution of technology and its influence on capitalism may be what really saves people from the worst of climate change. Businesses will have to adapt to reality or else the clenched fist of the invisible hand of the market will come crashing down upon them. While climate change is obviously not a problem to be taken lightly, the country may be primed to handle it very well, regardless of government influence. 






Bowen, Angela. Future Tech: Climate Science. Pioneer Press, 2012. Print.

Doyle, Janice. Producing a Legacy: The Industrial Revolution’s Impact on the Modern World. Samhill Press, 2005. Print. 

Hurring, Jon. A History of the Climate. Oxford University Press, 2013. New York. Print.

Nelson, Gerald. Climate Change: Impact on Agriculture and Costs of Adaptation. International Food Policy Institute. 2009. Print.