Last Friday, the Fourth National Climate Assessment (https://nca2018.globalchange.gov) was released by scientists outlining the dire threat posed to our very existence by climate change. This report follows the equally ominous findings of the UN on climate change from October. All the science shows our planet is warming at an incredibly dangerous rate that will bring about economic and natural disaster. The five warmest years in global record have all occurred this decade. Think about that, the five warmest years in world history have all come within the last 8 years. This is not a normal fluctuation of weather. Climate change is often thought of as an existential threat but it is critical we recognize the tangible threat it poses right now and make viable plans to address it going forward.
A key to combating climate change is slowing the rapid warming of our planet. And, combat it we must. The Paris Climate Agreement, which the President announced the U.S. will withdraw from, aims to keep worldwide temperature rising between 1.5°C-2°C higher than pre industrial levels. Currently, the world is 1°C warmer (and quickly rising) than pre-industrial levels. Now, 1°C warmer might not sound like a lot but that seemingly small change is having a critical effect on the climate and our lives. The United Nations study estimated that the global population exposed to water stress in the future (droughts, flooding etc…) is 50 percent lower at 1.5°C warmer versus 2°C warmer. The potential for extreme flooding and droughts could cause a worldwide refugee crisis. On the coasts, flooding would overrun and destroy homes, causing millions to be displaced. Low income communities will be particularly affected. We experienced this on a smaller scale when thousands of people had to resettle in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. We just saw the danger of areas facing droughts with the deadly fires in California. The warmer climate creates drier landscapes and thus a longer fire season. In fact, the fire season in western states is 84 days longer than it was in the 1970, according to the Economist. These droughts will ravage the farming community. If our warming continues at the same pace, the production of some crops could fall by 75 percent by the end of the century. Warming on our current trajectory could cost our economy approximately 500 billion dollars a year by the end of the century in crop damage, lost labor and extreme weather damage. This rivals the damage of the last economic recession!
After all this gloom and doom you may be asking what can I do to help? The good news is we still have time to halt and possibly reverse some of the effects of climate change. We must work to reduce our carbon emissions by investing heavily in renewable energy and clean energy sources. This means investing in electric cars, solar energy and wind energy among others. And, the costs of clean energy and solar are plummeting. That’s why I sponsored HB 618 in 2016 which aimed to create community solar gardens where utilities would provide credit to consumers in the form of net metering credits for the excess energy produced. As a staunch environmentalist, I am eager to continue working to expand this program among other clean energy initiatives to move away from our reliance on fossil fuel. For example, Virginia has created a Voluntary Renewable Energy Portfolio goal of 15 percent renewables by 2025. I support legislation that will mandate this goal is reached and significantly increase the percentage as a majority of states are doing. Furthermore, Governor Northam has signaled his support for joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) which currently consists of 10 other states. States in the initiative cap the amount of CO2 power plants can emit and mandates that utilities pay fines if they go over the limits. These funds are then invested in clean energy initiatives throughout the state. The current members in the RGGI have seen their CO2 emissions reduced by 40 percent since 2005 while their economies have grown by approximately 8 percent. I am hopeful Virginia will be able to join the 10 current members soon.
In our everyday lives there are several small, but important, steps we can take to reduce our pollution. First and most obviously, always make sure you properly recycle everything you can. Next, try to limit your use of single use items such as plastics. Plastic bags will end up in landfills or in the ocean. Try to buy environmentally friendly grocery bags that are reusable. Create a compost pile in your backyard. Plant some trees. Additionally, make sure your home is properly insulated. Statistically, homes that are properly insulated use far less energy because they use less heat or air conditioning. We should think of energy efficiency as a fuel resource, just like oil or coal, and recognize that it saves us from using more fossil fuels. These are just a few of the many measures that we can all take in our everyday lives to minimize our fossil fuel usage.
The time to act on climate change is now; we have no more time to procrastinate. It is no longer a valid or realistic argument to point to others and complain. The point of no return for global warming is quickly approaching. Yet, research indicates that if we commit now to make strong adjustments within the next 10 years we have an opportunity to minimize the long-term damage and possibly even work to reverse some of the effects. However, if we remain complacent and don’t act, our children and grandchildren will suffer tremendous consequences.