By Van P. Keele, Hamilton
Climate change is real. We know it because we’re living it right here in the Bitterroot – earlier snowmelt, raging wildfires, record high temperatures, warm winters, low river levels. To deny human-caused climate change, and to obstruct in combating or mitigating it, is morally, religiously, economically, and environmentally wrong.
Big oil and coal, along with their mostly right-wing political allies, have been successful in confusing the public that science and experts are divided on climate change and global warming. The truth is they are not–97% of climatologists say global warming is mainly man-made. But don’t just believe the scientists. Our U.S. military knows climate change is real and human-driven. The highest military and Pentagon leaders, of all political persuasions, of current and past administrations, have reviewed the facts, recognized the national security and economic threats, and have developed contingency plans.
For the first time in 3 million-odd years, our atmosphere reached 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas that’s driving climate change. Twelve of the last 15 years have been the hottest in recorded history. A 3 to 10 degree F increase is forecast by year 2100. Some models predict a 10-14 degree increase by the end of the century.
Imagine if you were running a fever of 4 or 5 degrees, say 103 degrees F. You’d be very sick and unable to function. That’s where our planet is headed over the next three generations if we do nothing.
Why should we care? Why do we need to act?
The catastrophic consequences of climate change are many. We will see higher temperatures, increased drought and wildfires, wildlife that go extinct, rising seas, stronger storms, heat-related disease, illness and death; and economic losses.
Here in the Bitterroot we’re seeing the beginnings of higher temperatures and their effects: our mid-elevation snowpack is melting a month early, river and creek levels are dropping much earlier and leading to water shortages, irrigation conflicts, higher water temps with stressed fish and reduced recreational opportunities and economic losses.
We’re also experiencing drought. With record temps and drought come wildfires, crop failures, and famine. Since 1970 fire frequency has increased 400% and acreage burned has increased 650%. Wildfires of 100,000 acres are common now. No amount of National Forest thinning or logging will protect our communities from global warming.
As global temps rise and rain distribution changes, landscapes are altered. Animals and plants move north or higher up the mountains. This’ll put subalpine meadows, alpine plants, and high country animals at risk. Here in the Bitterroot we might forever lose the mountain goat, pika, hoary marmot, and wolverine. Estimates for global species extinction by 2050 is 25%.
We’ve heard about melting icecaps and rising seas levels, by up to 1 to 4 feet come year 2100. This’ll put hundreds of millions of people at risk, leading to epic flooding, political and economic instability, and unimaginable population relocations, including here in America where thousands of miles of now-inhabited coastline will be lost.
More intense storms and hurricanes will occur, causing astronomical damage and loss to families, communities, coastal ecosystems, and infrastructure. The economic cost of weather disasters is now exceeding $60 billion/year, costing our federal government dearly, and in turn, us taxpayers.
Even now climate change is shaving 1.5-2% off world gross domestic product (GDP). Reports predict this will rise to a 4-5%, maybe 20%, in 10 years. We’re talking many $trillions. This equates to $2000 to $9000 each year per American taxpayer to cover the costs from fires, crop failures, storms, increased food and water costs, and healthcare-related costs.
So what would be the cost to lessen the worst damaging effects? About $1000/year per taxpayer.
There’s a Senate bill that would tax the main culprits of U.S. greenhouse emissions – the fossil-fuel producers. It’d raise $1.2 trillion in revenue over 10 years and would significantly reduce carbon emissions. Taxpayers would get 60% of the revenue to help defray costs passed on by the energy producers. For you deficit hawks: 25% goes to cutting our deficit. The balance goes toward mitigation measures, sustainable energy projects, energy efficiency in our homes, research, and job training/transition programs to move workers into well-paying clean energy jobs.
Unfortunately, Republicans reject any such legislation out-of-hand and remain the party of climate denialism.
Meanwhile, President Obama will do what he can to combat climate change, whether it’s improving fuel efficiency standards, encouraging clean, sustainable energy production through tax credits for homes and businesses, or regulating power plant emissions.
Why care? We should care and act because it’s morally the right thing to do for us, our grandchildren, and generations to come. Because we’ve never faced such a daunting challenge and we don’t surrender when our backs are against the wall. Because we have this one habitable planet, and there’s no “do-overs.”
So let’s do this.