OPINION: Now Is The Time to Come Together on Climate Change

Climate change is real and is caused by humans.

To many, this statement will seem partisan — a liberal viewpoint. It does not have to be nor should it be, however.

Environmental issues as of late have become some of the most bitter, partisan contests of the day. Yet there was a time when this was not so, when environmental policy enjoyed widespread support from both parties.

From the late 1960s through the 1970s, this environmental consensus led to the golden age of environmental regulation in America. Laws and regulations were passed that protected air, land, water, and wildlife, and placed America on the road to a cleaner future.

The environmental movement was largely the result of the realization by many citizens that the current environmental legal regime was not working. Lawsuits against polluters was problematic and state laws were inadequate or non-existent.

Rivers were burning, cities were blackened in smog, and the very symbol of America, the bald eagle, was dying out.

Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” lit the match of the movement. The public mobilized and demanded action that the politicians could no longer deny.

Today, while much progress has been made, we are still faced with a number of environmental issues but none more important than climate change. America’s leaders must unite in declaring the problem even if opinions differ on the solution.

During the environmental movement, there were differences of opinion on how to solve problems. The environmental statutes are littered with compromises forged between both parties, compromises that both provided flexibility to business interests as well as meaningful regulation.

America’s leaders must unite in declaring the problem even if opinions differ on the solution.
Indeed, even in the 1980s our leaders successfully managed to regulate ozone depleting CFCs. Yet the difference between past challenges and climate change today is that in the past leaders on both sides at least accepted that the problem existed.

Today, of course, there is no such luck. Despite the facts, some of our leaders continue to deny that the problem even exists.

Report after report link human activities to climate change. Around the world humanity is witnessing unprecedented calamities that threaten human life. Entire nations are living in fear that they may be swept under the seas in a few decades. Biologists are witnessing unprecedented changes to wildlife systems.

Citizens have mobilized around the world demanding action. Yet instead of debating the solutions to this very obvious problem, some of our leaders continue to push this conspiracy theory that scientists, leaders, other nations, and the Vatican as of late, are conspiring to enact some type of agenda. Just what that agenda is depends on who one asks.

Even more disturbing than ignoring the existence of the problem, the same leaders, often bankrolled by fossil fuel interests, have stepped up efforts to accelerate carbon extraction efforts. These efforts have included exempting fracking fluids from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, allowing drilling in sensitive areas, construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, approval of mountaintop removal mines, and siphoning off public land for extractive purposes.

Rather than solving the problem, they are exasperating it. It is no coincidence that since the Supreme Court’s decision to allow vast amounts of dark money into elections, the most anti-environmental Congress was elected. Perhaps there is an agenda partaking in the climate change debate after all — that of the industry with the most to lose.

Climate science is indeed extremely complicated when it comes to predicting the exact effects, such as how much sea level rise one can expect in a certain region.

However, the concept of human-induced climate change is easily provable based on four facts that are not in scientific dispute:

1. Carbon dioxide and other gases are heat trapping. This concept is easily provable in any lab and is visible on other planets like Venus.

2. Humanity has placed and continues to place ever more of these gases into the atmosphere. This figure is relatively easy to measure or estimate and is not in serious dispute.

3. The primary natural carbon sinks that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are plankton in the oceans and forests. These sinks remove carbon and produce oxygen — 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced by Amazon rain forest alone, and at least 50% is produced by ocean plankton.

4. A swath of forest the size of Panama is lost each year to deforestation, and the plankton population has declined by 40% since 1950.

The take away statement of all of these facts is that humanity is placing tons and tons of a heat trapping gas into the environment while simultaneously destroying the planet’s ability to remove those gases. A change in climate, therefore, seems pretty predictable.

What is unpredictable are what scientists call “feedback loops,” whereby the human-induced output, increased warming, reacts with Earth’s natural processes to trigger further warming or possibly even further cooling.

For example, the human output of greenhouse gasses causes permafrost to melt, releasing methane and triggering further warming. Or if further warming triggers the release of fresh water into the north Atlantic from melting glaciers, altering the salinity, slowing the gulf stream could cause a cooling event in North America and Europe.

But unpredictability should not be an excuse for inaction. Instead, it should be a cause for further caution. We are ultimately talking about the future of the only planet that we have, our home. Knowing our actions will have a great effect, but not knowing where that effect will come from is even more concerning.

Governments, NGOs, renowned scientific institutions, and even the Vatican accept the science of climate change. It is time that our leaders end the global conspiracy narrative, take this issue seriously and work together to solve it. After all, the survival of civilization as we know it may depend on it.

Photo Credit: Denis Burdin / shutterstock.com