Our climate is changing. This is the scientific community’s consensus. And, it’s not for the better. Temperature data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tell us that this past July was the hottest month ever.
August 2016 was the 379th consecutive month with average temperatures above the 20th-century average. Ten of the warmest years ever recorded have occurred in the last twelve years.
The science behind these temperature increases is just not that complicated. When we burn fossil fuels, such as oil, gas, and coal, carbon dioxide (CO2) is released into the atmosphere. That carbon dioxide retains heat that would otherwise be reflected out into space.
This phenomenon was first reported way back in 1896 from experiments done by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius. It’s known as the “greenhouse effect,” and is actually important to the livability of our planet, as a certain level of heat retention is important to keep our climate in a temperature range where life can thrive. The problems start when things get out of balance, which is what we are seeing now.
For those of you reading this saying, “our climate has always changed,” you’re right, it has. The thing is, it has never changed this drastically in such a short period of time, and this is supported by tree-ring data going back 2,000 years, and ice-core data going back 800,000 years.
The results we are seeing by this increase in global temperature include rising sea levels, with an increase of 6.7 inches in the last century, and warming oceans, which absorb most of the extra heat. We are also seeing drastic reduction in Arctic sea ice, and the retreat of glaciers all over the world. Here in West Virginia, we recently experienced another example of the effects of a warming planet with the heavy rains and flash-flooding events that occurred in June.
Once again, the science is pretty simple, warmer air holds more moisture, which generates more energy and precipitation, which leads to stronger and more intense rainfall events. And it’s also true that not every extreme weather event can directly attributed to climate change. But similar to how you can’t say that every home run hit by a baseball player on steroids is directly related to his drug use, those steroids certainly increased the likelihood of him hitting more of them. The extreme weather that we are experiencing at present is our climate on steroids.
Huge Costs If We Continue to Ignore It
While it may seem that our political leaders are not currently giving the climate change issue the attention it deserves, other government agencies are. Quoting from a 2013 report from the WV Division of Homeland Security: “Climate change is both a present threat and a slow-onset disaster. It acts as an amplifier of existing natural hazards. Extreme weather events have become more frequent over the past 40 to 50 years, and this trend is projected to continue. Climate change is expected to have a significant impact on communities, including those in West Virginia. For instance, more frequent intense precipitation events may translate into more frequent flash-flooding episodes. More intense heat waves may mean more heat-related illnesses, droughts, and wildfires.”
The list of evidence that our planet is changing is a long one that also includes changing migration habits of birds, animals breeding and nesting earlier, and earlier spring frosts and/or later fall frosts.
We’re also incurring huge physical, monetary, and health-related costs due to the burning of fossil fuels. A recent report from NOAA states that 2015 was the eighth consecutive year with damages from severe weather exceeding $10 billion in the U.S. At the current rate, there is no doubt that 2016 will be the ninth.
At present, the U.S. spends approximately two percent of its gross national product dealing with natural disasters. The cost of dealing with climate-related disasters will grow to 7.5 percent of our GDP by the year 2100—with an accompanying growth of government just to spend that increase. The National Academy of Sciences tells us that the burning of coal alone causes more than 13,000 deaths each year in the U.S., and that the burning of fossil fuels causes $120 billion a year in health-related damages.
The World Health Organization predicts that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths worldwide. Throughout our planet, people are dying now of increased heat waves, exacerbated air pollution, mosquito borne diseases such as Zika, and more deaths from water-related diseases such as diarrhea. All exacerbated by our changing climate.
Is There Any Good News?
Yes. There are growing opportunities for new jobs, or even fortunes to be made, as we transition to a sustainable economy with renewable energy as its centerpiece. There are now more employment opportunities in the solar industry than in oil, gas, and coal extraction combined. In 2016, employment in the solar industry in the U.S. grew 12 times faster than overall job creation.
Thankfully, humans are adaptable. Until 1859, the primary source of lighting in this country was whale oil. A short list of items that have gone obsolete in just a few short years include: film cameras, pay phones, video cassettes, encyclopedias, and typewriters. The first digital cell phones weren’t even available until the early ‘90s.
We should be looking at our current situation as one of opportunity. There is so much potential in the development of alternative sources of energy—in ways to use the energy we have more efficiently, and in finding ways to deliver and store the energy we produce. We could be looking at a brighter, more secure future, without wars over oil, and with cleaner air to breathe and water to drink.
In the meantime, there is a lot we can all be doing to reduce our carbon footprint(s) and contribute to the transition to a sustainable world. Properly maintaining the automobiles we have, and/or driving the most fuel-efficient vehicles we can is a great start—as is paying close attention to our driving habits.
Additionally, our homes and buildings are responsible for 30 percent of U.S. CO2 emissions; making sure our homes are operating as efficiently as possible is another enormous contribution. Many power companies offer free energy audits to determine the energy efficiency of your home.
And then there are the little things—that add up: reduce your energy consumption, reuse items when you can, and recycle whenever possible.
Sadly, while all of this will help, it just isn’t enough. For major change to happen, it will require action by our leadership in Charleston and D.C. Our political leaders don’t create political will, they react to it. No significant social change has ever occurred without people speaking out and demanding those changes. Think of civil rights, gay rights, and women’s rights—all issues that would not have moved forward if enough people hadn’t said they wanted to see these changes.
Strength In Numbers
What can you do? Write and call your congressional representatives and tell them you want them to take action on climate change. Write letters to your local papers. And perhaps most strategically, think about getting involved with organizations that are focused on solving the climate crisis.
One such endeavor is Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), which is focused on creating the political will for a livable planet, and is currently in the process of starting a chapter in the Panhandle.
CCL, a non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies designed to address climate change, aims to empower you, the citizens, to connect with and influence members of Congress. So much of the time with an issue as comprehensive and seemingly entangled as climate change, the ultimate feeling is: “Yes, but what can I truly do about it? I’m just one person.”
That’s where CCL comes in. Our consistently respectful, non-partisan approach to climate education is designed to create a broad, sustainable foundation for climate action across all geographic regions and political inclinations. By building upon shared values rather than partisan divides, and empowering our supporters to work in keeping with the concerns of their local communities, we work towards the adoption of fair, effective, and sustainable climate change solutions. We do it by training volunteers to build relationships with elected officials, the media, and their local community.
And we don’t shout at Washington from a distance. We’re in Washington, many times a year, meeting with the nation’s leaders, advocating for climate change solutions. Our flagship solution is called Carbon Fee and Dividend—a revenue-neutral carbon tax with 100 percent of the net revenue returned directly to households. This plan will reduce greenhouse gas emissions 52 percent below 1990 levels within 20 years, while growing the economy and saving lives.
Interested? You should be. Climate change is affecting us all, right now. And will continue to do so. Its impact can be addressed and confronted when people work together to seek lasting solutions. We welcome you to find out more about CCL and our solution at CitizensClimateLobby.org. And to learn more about CCL’s emerging presence in the Panhandle, contact me at the number(s) below.
— Jim Probst—WV State Coordinator / Citizens’ Climate Lobby – can be reached at 304-824-5916 (day) or 304-824-5705 (evening).