It is only November and we have already experienced five major climatic abnormalities that have been at the forefront of discussion across America. Since the beginning of this year, wildfires have burned through an area the size of Maryland. On August 14th 2012, 25 percent of the land area of the lower 48 states was experiencing extreme or exceptional drought (which in turn knocked off 0.4 percentage points from third quarter GDP growth). Arctic sea ice melted to the lowest levels ever recorded. And most recently, a late season hurricane swept across the East Coast and caused billions of dollars of damage that will take weeks or months to recover from. Unsurprisingly, the problem at the root of these events is related to one simple factor that we have known about for years: a warming climate. The first nine months of the year have been the hottest the United States has ever experienced.
A recent opinion piece in the Washington Post highlights these starting events and notes that while these events are not a direct result of how much CO2 we are emitting this year (which is actually on pace to be the lowest total in 20 years), the fact that we continue to affect the climate with greenhouse gases is making the atmosphere more unstable and prone to natural disasters. Studies have shown that continuing to pollute our atmospheres will make drought and wild fires more frequent and severe. Global sea level is rising, meaning that powerful storms are more likely to cause the intense flooding seen during Hurricane Sandy.
Despite this overwhelming amount of evidence linking greenhouse gas emissions to global warming, and thus extreme weather events, neither political party has done much to address the topic on the campaign trail. The topic of climate change did not surface at any of the debates, despite the presence of these climate-related disasters. The only real mention of energy policy came when both President Obama and Governor Romney boasted that they would expand the US natural gas industry. There were only vague mentions of wind and solar power, with Governor Romney asserting that he will fight for coal, oil and gas, give the EPA less power to regulate coal plants, and bring the Keystone Pipeline in from Canada. And though President Obama has implemented some of the most important energy legislation to date (including fuel efficiency standards and $90 billion for clean energy), he too was notably absent on the topic of greenhouse gases and climate change.
In order to have a real discussion about climate change, we need our political leaders to take a stance and propose solutions. The climatic events seen in 2012 have accelerated the timeline that scientists have given for climate change; dramatic shifts in our climate are happening right now. We need a president and Congress that would be willing to pass legislation like the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2012 in order to start building an energy future that reduces our reliance on emissions-producing fossil fuels. In order to increase the stability of our climate and remove dangerous heat from our atmosphere, we need to invest in technologies that do not contribute to the warming of the planet. We have more than enough renewable resources throughout the world to meet our power needs with technology that is already available. Getting the public to realize that we need to make the switch as soon as possible will be the most important challenge of the next decade for our climate change leaders and our elected officials – starting with the office of the President.
Blog post by Matt Jennings