The climate crisis has gotten worse. February 2016 was the most unusually warm month on record, with January being the second. Ocean acidification is bleaching coral reefs and threatening the food chain. Arctic ice and the Greenland ice sheet are melting faster than expected, and sea level rise is threatening coastal cities. A recent scientific paper published by climate scientist Dr. James Hansen projects that by burning fossil fuels at the current rate, we are headed for “abrupt climate change,” putting humanity into a dangerous, uncharted situation — possibly irreversible. We’re not talking generations down the road, but decades. A consequence may be “killer storms” that toss around enormous boulders like marshmallows. While Dr. Hansen’s paper is still being peer-reviewed, climate scientists agree that “society is not moving fast enough to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, posing grave risks.” [See: “Scientists Warn of Perilous Climate Shift Within Decades, Not Centuries” — NY Times, March 22, 2016.] We’re in emergency climate mode now.
I hoped the 2016 Idaho Legislature would set policies that would incentivize Idahoans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and become part of the solution to this existential problem. But it was not to be. A bill that would have established significant penalties for pipeline leaks (methane from natural gas is leaking everywhere): killed right out of the chute. Any municipality deciding to ban plastic bags (made from fossil fuels): Forget it. Taxing solar and other sustainable energy projects: good business. Purchasers of hybrids or electric cars: Make them pay through the nose for registration. The list goes on.
All Republican presidential candidates are climate change deniers, as are nearly all Republicans in Congress. An oft-cited reason for climate inaction (other than: It’s a hoax; it’s not caused by man; sunspots, etc.), is that acting on climate would hurt jobs and the economy. But note: A peer-reviewed study issued on April 4, 2016, concluded that “climate change may wipe out $2.5 trillion, or 1.8 percent of the world’s financial assets, by the end of the century if the planet continues to warm at its current rate.” [See: “Study Sends a Warning to Wall Street of Trillions at Risk From Climate Change” — Inside Climate News, 4/5/16.] This stands to reason. If our coastal cities are inundated; climate refugees are on the move; the food chain is broken; forests are becoming nonexistent; droughts, killer storms, fires and floods are part of daily life; and we’re facing a Sixth Extinction — that’s likely to cause a real economic downturn.
It’s time to act. We aren’t getting the leadership needed from our elected officials, largely due to resistance by Big Money and fossil fuel interests. We must act ourselves. Those of us who can convert to solar, must do so now. If we can drive electric cars, let’s do it. We can reduce our consumption of animal products to significantly cut back on methane — one of the most damaging of the greenhouse gases. And there’s an election coming up. Vote for the climate this time.
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Alyson R. Martin, J.D., is with the Climate Reality Project and is founder of Doing What We Can, citizen climate action, at doingwhatwecan.org.