Bob Lake, Public Service Commissioner, believes climate change (CC) is real. We who believe in science and are sufficiently clear-eyed in observing that CC is already greatly impacting the Bitterroot, want to thank this rare Republican for recognizing the undeniable.
Notwithstanding Lake’s admirable admission, he does a public disservice by stating mistruths about CC that understate its urgency and environmental impacts. He purportedly bases his letter on the best climate science—correctly found in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. But he’s clearly not read it. Readers: Please refer to “Summary for Policy Makers” IPCC 2014.
The IPCC describes four likely carbon emission scenarios from now through year 2100. The scenarios describe a range of temperature increases from low (1⁰ C increase), medium (1.8⁰ C increase), medium-high (2.2⁰ C increase), to high (3.7⁰ C increase). Lake states that only the extreme 3.7⁰ increase is a danger—the one he erroneously claims Obama, Democrats, and environmentalists latch onto—while the 3 less dire scenarios have “low impacts to the environment.” Plus, he asserts “we’ve got lots of time” to solve CC.
Any reader of the IPCC report would respectfully tell honorable Lake that he’s wrong on both accounts.
First, we haven’t even reached scenario one, yet Bitterrooters are already experiencing significant environmental impacts related to just the beginnings of CC: more frequent and bigger wildfires, earlier snowpack melting, drought, hotter summers, milder winters. These impacts will worsen under all four scenarios. Low environmental impacts? Hardly.
Per the IPCC report: “Within this century, magnitude and rates of climate change associated with medium to high-emission scenarios pose high risk of abrupt and irreversible regional-scale change in the composition, structure, and function of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems…”
What this means is that even under midrange scenarios many species will be unable to adapt and will go extinct.
Here are a few other risks associated with all emission scenarios, identified by the IPCC, and with high confidence, that aren’t just environmental, but will affect our livelihoods, economy, and jeopardize our well-being:
• Risk of death, population dislocations, and disrupted livelihoods due to rising sea levels and storm surges on low-lying coastal areas.
• Extreme weather events causing systemic infrastructure breakdown (water, electricity).
• Risk of mortality from extreme heat waves and flooding.
• Risk of widespread crop failures from warming and drought. In balance CC will be an unmistakable drain on our country’s food production.
• Livelihoods of rural farming and ranching communities will be at risk due to water scarcity.
It’s abundantly clear from the IPCC report that the environmental impacts from any moderate CC scenario are enormous and will devastate our economy, ecosystems, and livelihoods. It’s also clear that action is urgently needed to mitigate and adapt to CC. But please readers, don’t simply trust me or IPCC scientists—put your trust in US military leadership.
The Department of Defense’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review explicitly states that CC is a national security threat that “will devastate homes, land, and infrastructure,” “exacerbate water scarcity,” “lead to sharp increases in food costs,” and “may increase …future [military] missions.”
The DOD is employing strategies to address CC, including installation assessments, making contingency plans, working multi-nationally, and developing adaptation strategies like clean fuel technologies.
The Military Advisory Board (MAB), comprised of 16 retired generals and admirals, Republican and Democrat, released their 2014 “National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change” report. It’s a must read for Lake and everyone.
The “Foreword” reads: “The update serves as a bipartisan call to action. It makes a compelling case that climate change is no longer a future threat—it is taking place now… climate change serves as a catalyst of conflict in vulnerable parts of the world… actions to build resilience against the projected impacts… are required today. We no longer have the option to wait and see.”
The MAB’s report details military, economic, infrastructure, and environmental impacts of CC. It compares the level of threat of CC to the Cold War and transnational terrorism.
At its conclusion the MAB asks something that PSC Lake needs to answer about climate change: What exactly are local, state (Lake), and national leaders doing “to ensure that the world is sustained for future generations?”
Van P. Keele