Yes, Virginia, Climate Change Is Real

by Lorraine McCarty

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), on her first day as speaker of the House of Representatives, said that “[Climate change is] the existential threat of our time. The entire Congress must work to put an end to the inaction and denial of science that threaten the planet and the future.” She then proceeded to create the Climate Crisis Committee to help lead the nation to take decisive action on climate change. While the committee has no subpoena power and cannot write bills, acknowledgement from a legislative leader that the climate is in crisis and the announcement that the house will studying the issue are two huge steps. According to Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), chair of the new panel, “The Democratic caucus is unified under the belief we have to take bold action on the climate crisis.” She sees the committee’s job as taking general concepts of the Green New Deal (a separate effort) and turning them into a real policy framework and legislative language and eventually law. The name of the committee is significant, as it will help to remind people about what is at stake when the committee reports its findings.

We need to contrast Pelosi’s initiative with action of President Donald Trump’s nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, who did not read the landmark  federal report on climate change published in late 2018 that the EPA helped put together. Wheeler does not believe the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon emissions in any significant capacity and proudly supports dismantling the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. To read the Environmental Defense Fund’s case against confirming Wheeler as the permanent EPA administrator, click here.   

Climate Reality Check: After several years of little growth, global emissions of carbon pollution were up in 2018. In the United States, the Global Carbon Project estimates that from 2017 to 2018, carbon pollution rose by 2.7%. Fossil fuels still account for 81% of energy use worldwide. The use of coal–the biggest carbon emitter–is rising. Even though countries are using more renewable fuels in an attempt to reduce carbon output, emissions from cars and planes are increasing steadily. If you want to know more about why carbon emissions are referred to as greenhouse gasses, click here for a great summary by the Climate Reality Project. 

Increased carbon emissions mean warmer temperatures, but local cold snaps are not proof that climate change is a hoax. Weather is like a mood and is fleeting. Climate is like a personality and more long-lasting and spans continents, hemispheres and the planet. The recent climate report from the EPA points out that “over    climate timescales of multiple decades, however, global temperatures continue to steadily increase.” The reports cites numerous studies that show that 90% of the current warming is caused by humans, with no credible alternative explanation supported by observational evidence.

The report also warns that “warming charged extremes have become more frequent, intense, widespread or of long duration.” Think of California’s catastrophic wildfires and heavy rains followed by mudslides and massive hurricanes, just to name just two examples. The report says that damaging weather in the United States cost nearly $400 billion from 2015 to the fall of 2018. Global warming is changing how and where people live and presents growing challenges to health, quality of life, the economy and national systems that support the population. Increased air pollution will cause more heart and lung problems. Diseases from insects and tropical   infections will increase. Deaths from heatwaves and nastier allergies will increase. The flooding of sewage system can cause the spread of gastrointestinal disease, and droughts in some regions can cause food shortages. The ice caps in both the Arctic and Antarctica are melting much faster than expected (including ice the size of Idaho that was lost during two weeks in February of 2018 in the Arctic). Two ice basins in the Antarctic are threatened and, if both collapse, sea levels could rise by 92 feet, submerging communities around the world. Rising seas and severe storm surges will lower property values and force people to relocate. And the list goes on….

According to a recent AP poll, disasters influence 75% of the public’s thinking on climate change. Their observations of natural disasters and the weather around them have more impact than stories or statements from leaders. The public increasingly believes that climate change is real and is caused by human activity or an equal mix of human activity and natural causes. Only 1 in 10 attribute climate change to natural causes only. Cities, states and businesses are moving forward and developing plans to cut carbon emissions rather than rely on the federal government to take action. Fortunately, businesses are starting to account for estimated climate change risks in their financial disclosures. Businesses also are starting to take climate risks more seriously, although companies concerned with short-term challenges may not be accurately reporting long-term risks to their investors–sometimes issuing estimates 100 times smaller than the most conservative scientific estimate.

Climate scientists from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predict that a climate catastrophe just 12 years away, with many ill effects already       evident. One can only hope that the 2018 U.S. Climate Report not only will make it more difficult to ease regulations but also will spur limits on emissions and more investment in research to develop clean energy technology. The world came together on limiting the chemicals that were creating the ozone hole in the atmosphere, and the hole is disappearing. The world must do the same when it comes to halting climate change. That action cannot come too soon. We have been warned, and we need to act. Now.

Sources: Akron Beacon Journal, November 24, 2018, December 6, 2018, December 12, 2018, December 13, 2018, January 23, 2019; Record-Courier, November 24, 2018, February 10, 2019; 314Action, January 9, 2019; Time, October 22, 2018; Climate Hawks Vote, January 4, 2019; The Week, January 11, 2019.

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