Is the Season for Climate Change Denial Finally Over?
Three years after the National Academy of Sciences, a grouping of our country’s top scientists, declared “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks,” it’s hard to believe that there are still Senators who call climate change a “hoax.”
One year after a prominent climate skeptic, Berkeley Professor Richard Muller, took an independent look at all the data and wrote an op-ed in the New York Times declaring that global warming is real, and that “Humans are almost entirely the cause,” it is surprising to see editorial boards that still deny there is anything to worry about.
Six months after the United States experienced the hottest year in our history and the arctic ice pack shrunk to the smallest extent ever recorded, it confounds logic that some captains of the fossil fuel industry still insist that there is no evidence that climatic changes are occurring due to the use of their products.
And just months after the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million, a concentration higher than ever before seen in human history, it defies understanding why the U.S. Congress refuses to take steps to protect our health and our communities from the threat of climate change.
But because the deniers persist, it’s good news that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D, Cal.) has called together a collection of scientists and other experts Thursday to testify before the Senate Environment Committee at a hearing aptly titled, “Climate Change: It’s happening now.”
Only in Washington would that be a controversial proposition — 97 percent of climate scientists acknowledge that climate change is caused by human activity and 65 percent of the American people say it’s a serious problem. Sen. Boxer’s group of climatologists, oceanographers, meteorologists and economists will outline the current state of climate science.
This much we know: seven of our 10 warmest years in the U.S. have occurred since 1998, and globally the 15 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1997. The American West has been steadily drying over recent decades, and last year wildfires burned 9.3 million acres of forests and fields.
We are already paying high costs for the consequences of our changing climate. Last year, crop losses due to record drought, damage from storms and floods, wildfires and other disasters aggravated by climate change caused $140 billion in damage in the U.S. alone. New York City says it will need to spend $20 billion to protect itself from rising sea levels caused by climate change and to fortify its defenses against a repeat of the devastating sea surge from Superstorm Sandy.
The time for denial is long over. Now is the time for action. That’s why President Obama last month promised to tackle the United States’ largest single source of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, our 1,500 existing power plants. They account for 40 percent of our national carbon footprint, yet there has until now been no federal limit on the amount of carbon pollution they can emit.
The administration can act without waiting for Congress to pass a new law because the Clean Air Act already gives the Environmental Protection Agency the ability and the responsibility to reduce this pollution. At the president’s request, the EPA, taking input from the states, industry, scientists and the public, will devise cost-effective regulations, a task it has done for many other pollutants over the decades, nearly always at a cost far less than opponents initially claimed.
Predictably, opponents once again cried that the president was killing jobs and hurting the economy, without even knowing what approach the EPA will take and what the plan will look like.
The Natural Resources Defense Council studied the issue and came up with a plan that tailors pollution limits to the energy mix of each state, and gives electric utilities the flexibility to hit their targets in the most cost effective way. By relying heavily on ending energy waste and improving energy efficiency, our plan would slash power plant carbon pollution by 26 percent at a cost of only one percent of industry revenues. An analysis by independent economic experts shows that it would create over 200,000 jobs and save families money on their electric bills.
We are already paying a high price for failing to confront the climate change threat. The longer we delay taking action, the more these expenses will rise, and the more our children and our grandchildren will suffer the impacts.