While we awaited Michael’s landfall, the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change, the world’s top climate scientists, released the official report showing we’re closing in faster than expected on threshold climate disaster. The new report simply and plainly says unless we cut down the amount of greenhouse gases, poured into to the atmosphere daily, we’ll begin experiencing at least some severe effects of climate change by 2030. That‘s 12 short years. With current trends, global temperatures will rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. We’re at 1 C now, and we’ve been warned for years that raising by 2 C, which can happen as soon as 2040, would be catastrophic.
No one claims climate change causes hurricanes. What experts say is that warmer oceans increase hurricane size and intensity. Michael thrashed on shore skimming over coastal waters 4 to 5 degrees warmer than normal. Hurricane Florence came ashore in the Carolinas with less damaging winds, but brought torrential rains hanging on for days, as did Harvey in Texas. The unprecedented amounts of rainfall were due to storms almost stalling in place, which has long been predicted from disruption of normal wind currents by planet warming. Also predicted for decades: heat waves, floods, worsening wildfires, polar ice melt, sea level rise and droughts. The cost in human suffering and resource expenditure at the current temperature rise of 1 C is already beyond counting. And apparently, crediting our best sources, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
It occurs to me the scientific consensus has now turned strikingly different. In the past, the expected timeframe seemed to lack real specificity. It was easier to think in terms of “by the end of the century” or even “by mid-century”. We could hope for human ingenuity and innovation to work something out by then. This time they said 12 years. Twelve, like the eggs that fit in one carton, for getting busy and accomplishing, on a scale we haven’t seen before, a globally coordinated and down to grassroots (that‘s us) effort to drastically reduce what is spewed into our atmosphere every day. As I’ve never seen before, the world’s climate scientists have put their lifework, personal integrity and reputations on the line. And these are folks who only deal in seriously evidence-based conclusions before staking their reputations, on anything.
We can see highlights of visionary leadership across the country. Many governors, mayors, city and town councils are working with business leaders on both carbon emissions reduction and encouraging new clean energy production. Changes are coming locally, particularly with solar energy. TVA has cut carbon emissions by 34 percent toward a goal of 60 percent by 2020, and their dependence on coal is going down, from 60 percent to levels projected in the teens by 2020, with significant emissions reduction even in continued coal burning.
When Donald Trump pulled our country out of the Paris Climate Agreement, TVA officials declared their plans, in place for a decade, will proceed anyway. Innovative, forward-looking leaders get it, and this latest report can only invigorate their efforts. We should be grateful these are people who value science.
Back in 2009, Donald Trump signed an ad in the New York Times, favoring immediate action on climate change. Three months later he pulled his endorsement, explaining “bad for business.” Backed by some pro-polluter Republican lawmakers and fossil-fuel allies, he’s making war on the environment. They intend killing the landmark Clean Power Plan. They attack the clean car standards, even without support of the automobile industry. They prop up dirty coal-fired power plants, scaling back investment in clean energy jobs. In spite of pushback by states and environmental groups, they plan to expand oil and gas drilling offshore and on our public lands.
Trump’s EPA is a disaster, with its leadership packed with former fossil-fuel drones and lobbyists. His latest “wisdom,” after the report, is to admit climate change isn’t a hoax, but he’s not going to spend money on it. “It’ll change back,” he says. Like he always says: Who knows? We’ll see what happens.
The United States is the only country set to leave the world agreement to tackle human-caused climate change. And our Republicans are the only major political party in the world basically denying human culpability, showing no appetite whatever for the hard choices, even for the sake of our kids. That gives reason for major embarrassment and pushback. Not the shrugs far too many have managed so far.
Climate change deniers are science deniers, unacceptable in any elected official. Changing our own consumption levels and habits, while important and necessary, can be a drop in the bucket. But determined grassroots can be very effective in helping officeholders “evolve.”
I think we can forestall that 2030 threshold with bipartisan pressure on legislators for ending cozy deals with polluters. We’ll stop petroleum-tainted campaign funding, and redirect fossil-fuel subsidies to support clean energy. Too much optimism from an old lady? I sincerely hope not. This is America, after all.
Jennie Young of Elizabethton is a retired language arts teacher.