By Sabine Joseph
In recent years, advancements in science have shown that the world is facing serious environmental issues. Evidence of global warming, habitat loss, and species extinction aid the argument for the need for environmental laws essential to reversing their effects.
Between November and December of 2015, environmental issues were brought to the forefront of international debate with the Paris Climate Conference. The purpose of the conference was to discuss what was to be done about environmental issues on a global scale and to come to an agreement on how countries should take responsibility for and attempt to rehabilitate the environment.
While the conference had many other goals, one of the main ones was to halt global warming by “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels,” according to Article 2 of the Agreement.
All countries that came to the Paris Agreement each had to come up with a plan on how to achieve this by 2030, most of which involve reducing carbon emissions by switching to clean energy to varying extents.
The U.S. is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China, and proposed a plan to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by 26 to 28 percent, compared to 2005 levels, by 2025 by switching to cleaner energy sources. However, recent political events in the U.S. may change this plan.
Now that Trump has been inaugurated as President of the United States, people are anticipating what he will do about the environmental issues that affect the country. He has already stated that he plans to drop out of the Paris Agreement, which the House is currently divided on, and to increase the use of coal-power.
His statements raised some concern in the international community, sparking a document to be drafted at the 2016 Marrakech Climate Conference calling on all nations to honor their agreement, but in the end it was decided that the plans of the Paris Agreement are greater than one country and will not be halted by one country’s failure to meet their agreement.
“I think what we have seen in recent months and, in fact, in recent years is a recognized inevitability of the transition to a low-carbon economy. And so the international community – the international business community, the international policy community – is moving forward and will continue to move forward,” said John Morton, director of energy and climate change for the National Security Council, at a State Department briefing.
In addition, to potentially backing out of the Paris Agreement, Trump has called the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a “disgrace” and vowed to dismantle it through defunding. He initially planned to do so by appointing Myron Ebell as the head of the EPA, however the fact that the position was given to Scott Pruitt instead has not changed his stance on the issue.
Climate change and threats to the purity of air and water are not the only hazards the environment is facing. Extinction is a natural process that has been in effect since the beginning of life on Earth, but it has been increasing at an alarming rate, largely due to human activities. In China, the trade of ivory and shark fins have caused massive declines in the populations of elephants and sharks, and recently the Chinese have been making strides to reverse this.
On January 6, Air China announced a ban on the transportation of shark fins. As the national carrier for one of the world’s leading shark fin markets, many see this as a leap in preventing the consumption of shark fin and therefore in restoring shark populations to their natural levels.
“It’s a bold move, and . . . is likely to have a huge and lasting impact on shark populations and marine ecosystems worldwide,” said Alex Hofford, an activist with the WildAid conservation group, in an interview with The Washington Post.
Many other Chinese airlines and numerous container shipping containers have vowed to place a ban on shark fins. Additionally, the Chinese government placed a ban on shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy that is the premier reason for the shark fin trade, at state functions in 2012 and several restaurants followed the example by taking the dish off of their menus.
While there are still a large number of restaurants that serve the dish, the increase in awareness of the negative effects the demand for the soup has on the shark population has made many Chinese citizens boycott the dish.
“The more people learn about the consequences of eating shark fin soup, the less they want to participate in the trade,” said Peter Knights, WildAid’s Executive Director.
In another attempt to put an end to the Chinese pursuit of endangered species for commercial use, the Chinese government will also be banning the trade of ivory.
Although the hunting of elephants for their tusks was already illegal and all legal ivory came from elephants that died of natural causes, the fact that ivory trade was legal allowed for a lot of black market ivory trade to take place. Oftentimes poachers sold their illegal goods and claimed them to be perfectly legitimate when questioned.
As with the shark fins, increased awareness has turned off Chinese citizens from purchasing ivory goods. Now that China is cracking down on the ivory trade, there is hope that elephant populations will rise and that the Chinese will stop coveting products made from endangered species.
“There have just been a lot of really encouraging signs in the past couple of months of China’s will to change this worrying trend of consuming endangered wildlife. And so they should be given a lot of credit,” says Steve Blake, the chief representative of WildAid in China.
SeaWorld in San Diego announced that it is changing its orca shows. The San Diego park will be making the change by this summer while the Orlando and San Antonio parks will follow suit by 2019.
The parks will no longer put on theatrical shows with their orcas and will instead introduce an educational experience that demonstrates the way orcas behave in the wild. However, despite the claim that the exhibit is no longer theatrical, the orcas will still receive instructional cues from their trainers.
“You will still see a whale leaping out of the water. We want to be able to demonstrate behaviors people would see in the wild with the killer whales and their abilities as a top predator in the sea,” said Al Garver, former orca trainer for SeaWorld and the vice president of zoological operations, to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The park is taking these measures due to fervent protest and a decline in ticket sales thought to be caused by the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which followed the life of Tilikum, the SeaWorld orca that killed one of his trainers in 2010.
The documentary condemns the captivity of orcas on the premise that it makes them more aggressive and the director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, has expressed that she believes SeaWorld’s new approach does not change anything.
“The trainers aren’t safe, and the whales aren’t happy,” Cowperthwaite said in an interview with CBS. “They’re still just doing manic circles around concrete swimming pools.”
Though President Trump is opposed to taking measures to prevent further environmental degradation, it seems that the rest of the world is willing to take steps to better the environment.
And while these changes may not solve the issue of environmental degradation right away, they are taking a step to creating a global environment capable of sustaining life far into the future.