Forward on Climate: The Climate Cliff
By Ed Markey
For two years, the nightly news and the morning papers have been filled with scenes that look like they’re straight out of a blockbuster movie. Waves crashing over sea walls as stronger storms lash our coasts. Trees ablaze as wildfires scar our forests. Crops withering as unrelenting drought and heat parch our farms.
Climate disruption is costing American lives and livelihoods. In 2011 and 2012, America endured 25 weather disasters that totaled $1 billion or more in damages 2012 was the warmest year on record in the continental United States. We suffered the most widespread drought since the Dust Bowl, record wildfires that engulfed neighborhoods, and superstorm Sandy, which killed more than 100 people and could cost taxpayers $60 billion.
Sandy has has supercharged the discussion of climate change again. Recently, I held two emergency meetings calling for climate action, because the threat to Faneuil Hall, Boston’s Back Bay and Cape Cod National Sea Shore are no longer theoretical. This past weekend we saw the devastation a strong storm coupled with high tide can bring to our shores. As increasing temperatures raise sea levels and strengthen storms, our coastal communities will increasingly be ground zero for climate disruption.
In my two recent reports, you can see the connection between climate and extreme weather, and the local impacts on New England.
If our planet goes over the climate cliff, we will plunge into an abyss of impacts that we cannot reverse. Large parts of the Greenland ice sheet will await an inevitable, inexorable thaw. Methane buried under the Arctic tundra will seep ceaselessly into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change.
Last year, an international team of scientists found that global carbon dioxide emissions hit a record high in 2011. China’s carbon is up 10 percent; India, up 7 percent.
If emissions continue to grow as rapidly as they have been recently, we will not be able to prevent the planet from warming 3.6 degrees F, the goal the international community adopted in Copenhagen in 2009.
But while carbon emissions have continued to climb, the United States is proof that even the largest emitters can take steps to reduce emissions. The same year that China’s carbon emissions increased 10 percent, ours declined by 2 percent. We all know that it’s not enough to avert the worst effects, but it shows emission reductions are possible.
State and federal policies that support the use of renewable energy and increase efficiency have helped to achieve these reductions.
I championed fuel economy standards, passed by Democrats in Congress in 2007 and accelerated by President Obama, which have encouraged automakers to deploy more fuel-efficient vehicles. This is not only saving families money at the pump, it is backing out oil from the Middle East and will eventually drive down carbon pollution by 6 billion metric tons. That’s basically like eliminating all of the emissions from the United States in 2011.
And the move towards wind, solar, geothermal and other renewables, along with natural gas, has meant more coal plants have retired. We’ve gone from about half of our electricity just five years ago coming from coal to just 36 percent now. And it’s still dropping.
Last night, in the State of the Union, President Obama said that we must act to address climate change, before it is too late.As the co-author of the only climate change bill to pass a chamber of Congress,I believe this challenge depends on a triumph of technological optimism over fossil fueled pessimism. We must unleash a clean energy revolution that will create jobs and assert our energy independence. I stand ready with President Obama to aggressively address climate change and create American clean energy jobs that can’t be sent overseas.
The choice for polluters is the same that it has been for years. We can either pass market-based legislation in Congress or the Obama administration will continue to directly reduce heat-trapping pollution.
In the coming months, the White House and Congress can take actions that will set the tone of his administration and this Congress on this issue.
President Obama should direct EPA to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce global warming pollution from existing and new utility power plants and large industrial sources.
We must end 100-year-old tax breaks for big oil companies, and get serious about investing in a plan for clean energy. I have been fighting to pass a Renewable Electricity Standard and efficiency measures that will cut carbon and create jobs.
I have also been fighting the GOP effort to build the Keystone Pipeline. Tar sands oil is some of the dirtiest crude oil on the planet, and the pipeline ends in a tax-free export zone in Port Arthur, Texas. Keystone XL would make American the middleman between the dirtiest oil on the plant and the thirstiest markets willing to burn it. Our country and our climate will assume all of the risk, and what we will get back is higher gas prices in the Midwest and more pollution in our atmosphere.
We also need to get smart about smart grid. It wasn’t Beyonce’s amazing performance that blew out the power during the Super Bowl, it was an aging energy infrastructure. If Thomas Edison was alive today he would recognize our current grid. No one should be in the dark about the necessity and the opportunity of building a new energy backbone.
Republicans don’t want to talk about climate change, but Mother Nature keeps interrupting their other conversations. It’s time to not just talk about the challenges that we face from climate change, but to do something about them.
Right now, we’re hanging off the climate cliff by our fingernails, with the weight of the fossil fuel lobby pulling us down.
It’s time we all find that reserve of strength and pull ourselves back up again. I know we can do it. I know we must do it.