In May 2010, the National Academy of Sciences joined a nearly unanimous scientific community in finding that the world must dramatically reduce climate change pollution in order to avoid climate catastrophe that will kill millions of people, wipe out whole cities and cost trillions of dollars in damage.
Climate change is already disrupting our economy, health, and communities in very troubling ways. Scientists warn that we are running out of time to curb climate change so it doesn’t become unimaginably catastrophic. It is already costing about $1.2 trillion a year in global economic losses and causing steadily increasing numbers of deaths from floods, drought, and disease.
Climate change is causing more than 300,000 deaths from floods, drought and disease, and about $125 billion in economic losses each year. For example, 2010 was the hottest year ever measured, and nine out of ten of the hottest years on record have all been in the last decade. Floods are becoming larger, droughts longer, and wildfires and storms, more severe. In Pakistan, 2010 saw the largest downpour and floods in the history of the country, with 20 million people driven into homelessness. Australia was also flooded, with the area underwater the size of Germany and France combined.
The US is not immune from this destruction either. The wildfires in Texas in spring 2011 that brought down nearly 100 homes and scorched 1.6 million acres were the result of an unprecedented drought. In April, the largest outbreak of tornados in United States history hit Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and several other states throughout the Southern and Eastern US, leaving behind an estimated 346 deaths and an enormous swath of destruction.
Worldwide, extreme weather events such as floods, mass movements, extreme temperatures and storms, droughts, and wildfires are all becoming more severe. The annual average of extreme weather events has increased from about 120 per year during the 1980s to roughly 500 per year now. Once in a hundred years extreme weather events are occurring more frequently; Australia and the Amazon had two once in a hundred years droughts in the past two decades.
The World Bank estimated that food shortages and price increases associated with extreme weather events pushed 44 million additional people into poverty in just half of 2010 alone. If we do nothing, half the world’s population will face severe food shortages and rapidly spreading disease before the end of the century.
Though Americans make up just 4 percent of the world’s population, we produce 25 percent of the carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuel burning. Carbon emitted today remains in the atmosphere for about a century. Of all the carbon in the atmosphere today, the US has been the source of approximately 29 percent. Clearly, America has a responsibility to take a leadership role in solving the problem. Indeed, when we don’t meet that responsibility, growing nations often respond by saying “what’s the point in our country working hard to reduce carbon emissions while the US continues to be the world’s global heater.”
Each year of delay in reducing emissions will require steadily more drastic, difficult, and expensive action even as the amount of devastation that can no longer be prevented at all grows. The International Energy Agency reports that every year the world fails to seriously deal with climate change raises the price tag by $500 billion. Meanwhile, the US falls steadily further behind as a competitor in the enormous global green energy economic sector. Although the US House of Representatives passed comprehensive climate change legislation in 2009, the threat of a Republican filibuster prevented any such legislation from being considered in the Senate.
As Congress continues to disagree about the significance of climate change, our efforts to elevate the green industry has paled in comparison to European countries as well as China, Japan, and South Korea. These countries have pushed commercial development of carbon-reducing technologies with a policy mix of government investment, tax breaks, loans, and regulation and laws that cap or tax emissions. Our slow start is ceding job growth and profits to companies overseas that are now exporting their goods and expertise to the United States. We can change that with our investments!
Fortunately, the Clean Air Act provides another way to begin the job of reducing global warming and making investments in clean energy and green jobs economically viable. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act, enacted in 1963, requires the Environmental Protection Agency to determine whether climate change pollution harms human health, and if so, to issue regulations protecting the public from that harm. As a result of that ruling, the EPA has begun to issue regulations for some of the biggest and dirtiest sources of pollution. For more detail, click here.
Solving the Problem
Americans are more convinced than ever that global warming is real. Up from 57 percent in January 2010, now over 70 percent of Americans believe in the reality of global warming. Furthermore, more than half of Americans believe global warming is caused mostly by human activities. Now is the time to capitalize on these technologies and on the growing public sentiment that climate change is real. We have a responsibility to act and the tools to get the job done.
We owe it to our kids and grandkids to protect them from disaster. That requires addressing climate change before it becomes irreversible. We know how to implement clean energy solutions, and we know that reducing fossil fuel dependence will make America stronger.
No one should doubt America’s ingenuity and resolve. Those who say nothing can be done about climate change forget who we are and what we can do. We already have the energy technologies to run our economy cleanly and affordably. American businesses and scientists have developed amazing renewable energy technologies, including solar mirrors that magnify the power of the sun, efficient wind turbines, and jet fuel from algae. We can reduce US global warming pollution; create new jobs retrofitting buildings and building infrastructure for mass transit, freight rail, and clean energy; and develop wind power, solar power, next generation bio-fuels, and a smart grid transmission system. We can move the world to a new path that averts the worst of climate catastrophe.