We Can Try to Ignore it but It Won’t Go Away on its Own.
Two new reports out suggest climate change should be a key issue heading into next year’s elections and in every election to come. Not just presidential and congressional elections, but also statewide, state legislative and local elections. Why? Because if we are going to meet the dual challenges of reducing our greenhouse gas pollution and preparing for the climate change already “imbedded” in the system, we need every level of government acting.
This past week the Global Carbon Project—an international collaboration of scientists tracking greenhouse gases—reported that last year global warming pollution jumped nearly 6% worldwide. This is the largest year-on-year jump in history. Pollution in the United States alone jumped 4% from the previous year.
We have not only failed to reduce our pollution, we are increasing it at a break-neck pace.
Another report released this past month gives Northeasterners a better sense of what is ahead for the region as our climate changes. Researchers from Columbia, Cornell and the City University of New York released a 600-page report detailing the expected impacts of climate change. The report, funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, focused on New York, though its findings are indicative of changes we can expect throughout the Northeast Public Radio listening area.
Our climate has already changed significantly. The annual average temperatures in New York have already risen 2.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970, and in the winter months they’ve risen 4.4 degrees Fahrenheit on average. This is more than twice the observed global average temperature increases, consistent with the notion that global warming is more severe the closer one gets to the poles.
The report also confirms that intense precipitation events—heavy downpours—have increased in recent decades. Sea levels along New York’s coastline have increased by 1 foot since 1900.
With global greenhouse gas emissions on the rise, the report finds that we are on pace to experience the worse impacts of climate change. What can we expect? Average temperatures will increase another 3 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2020s and nearly twice that by the 2050s.
Extreme heat events are very likely to increase. Intense precipitation events—think Hurricane Irene—are expected to continue to increase. We can also expect summer warm season droughts.
Major changes to ecosystems are expected as the geographic range of species—including invasive species and pests—change relatively suddenly, leading to wide-ranging impacts on the natural environment but also impacting agriculture and human health.
What can we do about it?
The bad news is that a certain amount of additional warming is already included in the climate system because of pollution we’ve already released into the atmosphere. That means that state and local governments will need to prepare for bigger storms, floods and droughts and other changes in our environment. Some of the devastation we witnessed from Hurricane Irene could have been mitigated with better planning and we need to prepare.
The good news is that most scientists believe we can still drive positive change to stave off the worst impacts of climate change by changing the way we supply and consume energy in this country. We need to become more energy efficient, produce more renewable energy and consume less when possible. Those changes must be driven locally, regionally, and at the state, national and international levels.
As we head into another election year, we must make sure politicians know that climate change is on our minds and demands their attention, too. We can try to ignore the problem, but it won’t go away on its own.
Franz Litz is the Executive Director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center and Professor of Law at Pace Law School.
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