Connecting the dots on climate change

By Frances Beinecke, president, Natural Resources Defense Council
On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works committee takes up the important issue of climate change science and adaptation.

Hopefully, it’s a first step toward some real solutions to address record heat, drought, storms and other effects of climate change that we’re now all experiencing first-hand.

When it comes to connecting the dots between climate change and extreme weather, the lines are now clear.

What’s also clear is that we can do something – a lot of things, actually – to prevent more of the climate-change related weather disasters we’re experiencing.

First, we can reduce carbon dioxide and other polluting emissions that are heating our planet, intensifying our weather disasters and harming our health.

Stronger national and international emissions standards could cut billions of tons of heat-trapping, storm-intensifying carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. Two solutions championed by the Obama administration exemplify what we can do. Raising automobile mileage standards to 54.5 MPG will reduce carbon emissions from new vehicles by half by 2025. Limiting harmful emissions from new power plants will cut carbon pollution even more, helping calm our climate.

But we can do much more. Cleaning up emissions from existing, outdated dirty power plants, ending counterproductive policies like subsidies for oil, gas and coal companies, and stopping climate-altering undertakings like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which will only increase our carbon-intensive use of tar sands and court more weather disasters, are important next steps.

State and local governments, meanwhile, can better prepare for the effects of climate change – whether it’s sea level rise or drought or heat-related health problems. Washington, D.C., for instance, is implementing environmentally friendly stormwater control systems that will help reduce flooding and protect water quality in a changing climate – an example that other cities can follow.

And as individuals, we cannot sit on the sidelines while our planet and our neighbors suffer through climate change and extreme weather. Making the right choices in our homes and in our communities when it comes to where we get our energy will not only help heal our planet, it also will help improve our finances.

We must also hold our lawmakers accountable. Countless surveys show that Americans want and expect Congress to address climate change, to increase clean energy and to protect our health and environment.

Yet our current Congress so far has done the exact opposite, taking an unprecedented number of votes against environmental protections while simultaneously launching politically motivated witch hunts every time a clean energy company stumbles. Our lawmakers should protect our health and welfare, not follow the dictates of lobbyists for big polluters.

Most importantly, we must stop ignoring the problem – and start ignoring those who
deny the truth.

We now know what climate change looks like, and what it causes.

If we couldn’t figure it out ourselves from the freak derecho storm that crippled the Washington area; from the devastating wildfires in Colorado; from the hottest January-June in U.S. history or one of the worst U.S. droughts ever, science once again has shown us the connections.

In the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s “State of the Climate in 2011” report, 378 scientists from 48 countries concluded that extreme weather events are connected to human-induced climate change. This human-induced climate change, the NOAA report found, dramatically increased the odds of heat waves in Texas, wide temperature fluctuations in the United Kingdom and devastating storms in Australia and elsewhere around the globe last year.

Only those with ulterior motives and those they can persuade will continue denying that human-caused climate change is beginning to wreak havoc on our planet and on our lives.

We should not allow this minority to prevent us from taking the steps we can and must take to help heal our climate.

And we would be wise to act now – before the next weather disaster strikes.

Beinecke is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.


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