Pushing us to the brink of climate disaster

President Trump’s repulsive behavior drew well-deserved media attention this week, but his antics drowned out some truly troubling warnings from the scientific community on climate change. A spate of recent reports indicate we are in new, troubling territory thanks to human-driven carbon emissions, and we are running out of time to avoid climate catastrophe.

Ironically, Donald Trump’s top backer in Congress bears much of the responsibility for our failure to act with urgency to mitigate human-caused global warming.

NASA announced this month that July 2017 was statistically tied with July 2016 as the hottest July in modern record-keeping, which also means it tied for the hottest month on record, period. This year’s heat should alarm us because 2016’s heat records were driven in part by El Niño, which is absent in 2017.

Earlier this month, The New York Times released a draft federal document warning that the U.S. is already suffering severe climate impacts, and that “evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans.” Immediately prior to the Times’ reporting, Nature Climate Change published two reports papers that even if we cease all carbon emissions today, Earth will still warm by 1.3°C over pre-industrial times by 2100 and that we have only a 5-percent chance to avoid 2°C warming—the threshold that scientists warn could trigger devastating environmental and economic disruption.

We need elected officials who respond to these warnings with urgent action to protect our communities from harm. Unfortunately, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, leads efforts among his GOP colleagues to block greenhouse-gas-mitigation efforts. Perhaps not surprisingly, Smith is also one of Trump’s biggest boosters in Congress and was the first congressional donor to Trump’s presidential campaign.

If Smith and the GOP Congress keep using their positions to protect the energy companies of the past, we risk losing a free, prosperous future.

Smith recently published a column in The Daily Signal extolling the virtues of rising carbon dioxide levels, which he called “carbon enrichment.” Writing about so-called “beneficial changes to the earth’s geography,” Smith cheered about melting Arctic sea ice. Smith asserted that “new commercial shipping lanes” where an ice cap used to be are good things. 

A quick search of NASA’s website, however, tells you that “carbon enrichment” causes more “atmospheric warming, causing the melting of permafrost, and the release of yet more greenhouse gases that were once sequestered in ice. The positive feedback here is causing yet more gases to be released, contributing to more warming, which is not ‘a good thing’ under the present climate conditions.”

The recent history of the 21st Congressional District of Texas should have already dispelled Smith’s fictions on climate change. In 2015, Central Texas was hit with deadly flash floods that Texas’s state climatologist said were some of the best evidence that climate change was already taking hold in the state. Those floods saw lives and property destroyed all along “Flash Flood Alley,” which runs right through this district. Basic knowledge of the recent experience of his constituents should have convinced Smith that climate change was a catastrophe, not a cost-saver.

While Smith advocates for melting ice caps, authors of the research published last week warned that the window of action to avoid catastrophic climate change is about to close. Lead author of one of the studies published in Nature Climate Change, Adrian Raftery, said, “We’re much closer to the margin than we think.”

What lies past that margin? Scientist James Hansen warns that 2°C of warming could trigger multi-meter sea-level rise by 2065, forcing migrations and economic calamity that “make the planet ungovernable.”

This doesn’t have to be our future, however. We can take urgent action to electrify our energy consumption, transition our energy supply to clean renewables, and reduce energy demand via efficiency standards. To do that, we have to make immediate, strong public investments in research and development, along with undertaking vigorous market transformation programs. The 21st Congressional District of Texas already has more solar jobs than any other district in Texas. The people of Central Texas would benefit greatly from greater federal investment in clean energy and strong carbon mitigation measures.

We can choose a new future, but that means demanding that our representatives divorce themselves from fossil fuel companies and take strong, immediate action on carbon emissions. If we fail to do so, the Arctic ice will continue to melt, and the costs of delayed action will rise like the sea.

Derrick Crowe is a candidate for U.S. Congress in Texas’s 21st District. He is a former Capitol Hill staffer and is an organizer for climate change action.

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