50 Years of Climate Effort

Master Modifiable Slides July 11 13 38

Scientists started raising the alarm over climate change more than 60 years ago. Since then, societal decision-makers have sought to tackle climate change using the strategies successfully deployed to tackle other environmental problems, from air pollution and oil spills to the ozone hole. These approaches tend to follow a common path, including scientific studies, national or international panels and conferences, followed by national and international agreements on policies and measures intended to tackle the problem. This approach was successful via the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts in the United States, as well as the success (still in process) of national and international efforts to close the ozone hole.

But this strategy hasn't worked for climate change. Despite a vast number of studies and conferences, and a growing worldwide array of policies and measures, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have increased dramatically since scientists began raising the alarm over climate change. Climate change has gone from being a “future problem” to being a "here and now" problem.

The last 30 years of climate change policy advocacy in the U.S. can be likened to a modern-day Charge of the Light Brigade (image above), a failed but glorious frontal assault on a heavily defended position. Efforts to pass national climate policy have been turned back repeatedly by the powerful political, economic, and psychological forces defending that position. In effect, Team Urgency has repeatedly reenacted the famous Charge of the Light Brigade against the heavily defended positions of Team No-Urgency. (See the Chapter on Climate Chess).

Any effort to understand the future of efforts to tackle climate change will benefit from an understanding of what’s been tried to date, and what’s succeeded or failed. This section of Your Climate Change PhD lets you explore the topic through a series of lenses, including:

  • A chronology of the global effort to tackle climate change
  • The impacts of U.S. political polarization on climate outcomes
  • Societal vs. business thinking about climate change
  • The focus on quantitative emissions targets in international negotiations
  • The reliance on market mechanisms in tackling climate change

This will help you put efforts to tackle climate change to date into a larger context when it comes to exploring how efforts to tackle climate change may evolve in the future.