The good news in today’s U.N. report on global warming is that I’ll be dead before the predicted ocean rise floods my island home in San Francisco Bay. But here’s what I—and you and every other human on Earth—won’t escape, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:
It is almost 100 percent certain that humankind’s use of fossil fuels like oil and coal is warming and acidifying the oceans, melting glaciers and causing sea levels to rise around the planet, the IPCC says. With scientific certainty, the report warns us to throttle back on carbon consumption or move to high ground—unless of course you live in Appalachia where the high ground is being blown up to get at the coal.
If that scenario sounds hyperbolic, it’s because you don’t live along coastal fringes like millions of Americans and people across the planet whose communities are in low-lying areas where the seas already are inching up with inevitable consequences.
Remember last winter’s superstorm Sandy? It rode rising sea levels to wreak climate-change impacts on communities far from the coastline—and the IPCC says more and worse furies are coming … if we don’t collectively go on a carbon-free diet, now.
Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen came up with this handy analogy: The IPCC is like a doctor predicting that our planet has a 95 percent chance of avoiding a heart attack if we change our lifestyle. And there are signs of hope, he says.
We are finally seeing some progress in the U.S. Under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, new coal-burning power plants will be required to capture carbon pollution if they want to compete for customers in the future. Next June, the administration will issue rules to reduce carbon pollution from existing coal plants, the source of 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions. These are important steps forward.
But this is not enough. The U.S. must end our pursuit of extreme energy, like drilling in the Arctic, leveling mountains in Appalachia for dirty coal, and importing carbon-heavy tar sands oil from Canada. We must also reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants like black carbon that speed the melting of Arctic ice.
That’s what needs to be done at the national level, but Trip isn’t letting us locals off the hook. His advice:
The times also demand bold action from states and communities across the country. Across the country citizen groups have successfully fought for the retirement of aging coal-fired power plants that are our biggest carbon polluters, and a majority of states have taken action to promote clean energy solutions to the climate crisis. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have adopted standards that require the use of renewable energy, and 24 states have fully-funded energy efficiency policies in place that are making a big dent in our energy consumption. In the Northeast, nine states have banded together to create a carbon trading program that caps regional carbon emissions and spurs investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy. In Hawaiʻi, regulators and utilities have introduced path-breaking plans to enable a massive expansion of rooftop solar systems connected to the grid. We need this kind of climate action in every state and community across the nation.
It’s clear, from reading the IPCC report and Trip’s analysis, that if I don’t want my kid and grandkids to roll up their pant legs, I’d better start rolling up my sleeves and work to prevent it. Fixing the problem—now that’s a much better idea than outliving the consequences.