When it comes to climate change, sometimes it feels like we can’t see the forest for the trees.
Public attention has been consumed this summer by shocking climate impacts. Acrid wildfire smoke has blighted skylines and polluted the air in nearly every region of the United States. Heat waves have put nearly half of Americans under heat watches as July temperatures soared globally to what scientists calculate is the hottest range in 120,000 years. The waters off Florida’s coast are ideal hot tub temperatures, killing coral and sea life. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated, "The era of global boiling has arrived."
Fortunately WNC, so far, has not felt the dramatic impacts of climate change we see all around us. But we are not immune from them.
According to the World Weather Attribution team, the July 2023 heat extremes in the southwestern U.S. and southern Europe were “virtually impossible” without global warming. In today’s human-altered climate, a heatwave of previously unprecedented intensity is now expected to happen once every 15 years in the Southwest U.S. and once per decade in southern Europe at recent temperature levels. If global warming reaches the upper 2-degree Celsius target set in the Paris Agreement, these same heatwaves will occur once every two-five years. If ever the alarm was sounding for a rapid and far-reaching reduction of carbon emissions, it's now.
Despite the growing climate degradation around us, too many in Congress are missing the big picture and tinkering around the edge of a massive problem. They are failing to advocate for effective systemic actions to stop climate change. The issue is not just one wildfire, flood or heat wave. The issue is generalized human-caused climate change, which requires federal action to address the causes. Congress can no longer be passive. Not when climate extremes are not the occasional exceptional event but the norm.
Congress has made some progress in the last few years. The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act unleashed a deluge of clean energy investment. Examples include $10 billion of planned investments in new plants creating over 3,300 new jobs in North Carolina. The largest is Toyota’s planned $4 billion investment in Liberty. Through attractive incentives and credits, this legislation also made it easier for American households to help themselves to cleaner air, energy-efficient homes and cars, and abundant renewable energy from their personal activities. At rewiringamerica.org individuals can choose from incentives to cut their personal carbon pollution.
In July 2023 atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reached 420 ppm and are rising at an accelerating pace. The last 200 years of industrial revolution has interrupted the Earth’s natural carbon cycle, catapulting the level from less than 280 ppm for the prior 800,000 years to the current level, a 50% increase. Transitioning away from fossil fuels as rapidly as possible is essential to have a livable planet capable of supporting our needs. Some 800,000 years ago, there were not 335 million Americans, 8 billion world citizens and countless billions of internal combustion engines on planet earth, each with its own carbon footprint. Sustaining life as we have known it requires a stable climate.
One recent encouraging step is the relaunch of the Climate Solutions Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. It has an equal number of Republican and Democratic members committed to exploring bipartisan actions to stop climate change. This group should focus on crafting meaningful bipartisan legislation to drive down carbon emissions, such as a carbon price, among others. Climate disasters affect red and blue states and every American deserves to have their legislators work to enhance their health, safety and quality of life.
We hope U.S. Rep. Chuck Edwards will find a partner from across the aisle to join this important bipartisan group with him. He can help craft climate solutions we need to protect Western North Carolina’s people and businesses from the impact of climate change.
Everything we care about needs a livable world. It is unacceptable for our leaders to deny, delay and distract because the reality of coping with climate change is inconvenient, challenging and requires systemic change. We need our leaders to connect the dots and unite all of us in this effort to grasp the scale of the threat and see the forest through smoldering trees.
So, Congress — it’s time to act.
Amos Dawson is a volunteer with the WNC chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, board member of Conserving Carolina and has practiced environmental law for the last 49 years.
Mark Reynolds is the Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: NC Rep. Chuck Edwards needs to partner with Dems for climate action