Our environment at risk: We’ve known for decades about climate change, now we need action – La Crosse Tribune
On June 23, 1988, Dr. James Hansen, then director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified about his greenhouse effect research before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Early in his testimony he presented the following information:
“I would like to draw three main conclusions. Number one, the earth is warmer in 1988 than at any time in the history of instrumental measurements. Number two, the global warming is now large enough that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship to the greenhouse effect. And number three, our computer climate simulations indicate that the greenhouse effect is already large enough to begin to affect the probability of extreme events such as summer heat waves.”
Dr. Hansen’s testimony made the front page of The New York Times the next day with the headline, “Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate.” The article quotes one senator as saying, “Congress must begin to consider how we are going to slow or halt that warming trend and how we are going to cope with the changes that may already be inevitable.”
Author and writer Bill McKibben’s first book, “The End of Nature,” was published in 1989. It was the first popularly accessible book on global warming and climate change. In it you will find this quote: “The physical consequences of increasing the level of carbon dioxide will be staggering … Elevated levels can be measured far from industry and miles above the ground. And the changes are irrevocable.”
Again, all of this was over 30 years ago — 30 years! We’ve had advanced warning that global warming and its effect on our climate was already a significant threat. And what has been done about it. Sad to say, very little.
Just this year we have had massive flooding in China and Europe, another year of unprecedented wildfires in Russia and the western United States, and a “megadrought” in the western U.S. that rivals anything experienced over the past 1200 years. There has been a heat dome in the West this summer that broke temperature records, including Death Valley at 128 degrees. The excessive heat combined with falling water levels in western lakes, rivers, and streams has led to massive fish kills due to increasing water temperatures. I can continue, but I hope by now you understand that the consequences Dr. Hansen and Bill McKibben warned us about three decades ago are accelerating … rapidly.
The tragedy is that even with these ominous warnings beginning 33 years ago, we have squandered this early opportunity to aggressively work toward slowing our production of carbon emissions. We have not taken them seriously and have not treated this as the climate emergency it truly is.
Fossil fuel industries have done a good job of deflecting the harm they are doing by calling for individual action on climate change. They want Americans to feel guilty and take responsibility for climate action by walking and biking more rather than driving, eating less meat, recycling, and reducing their carbon footprints in general. And we should all be doing these things.
But don’t be fooled by these powerful and wealthy corporations. They need to be held responsible for their actions. They have known about carbon emissions and their effect on global warming for decades. But they have done nothing to stop it. They just keep making exorbitant profits. We need immediate action to stop polluting our atmosphere with CO2 and other greenhouse gases created by burning fossil fuels.
This will not be easy. In fact, it will be damn hard, and we will need to make very significant sacrifices to make it happen. We cannot make the dramatic changes we need by individual action alone. Fossil fuel companies cannot continue to profit while the world burns.
One of the most effective first steps is a fee on carbon emissions with the money collected given back to the American people — a carbon fee and dividend. For that we need legislation from Congress. One such bill currently in Congress is the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (https://energyinnovationact.org/).
Call and email your representatives and senators today and tell them you want effective climate change action including carbon fee and dividend legislation. And if climate change action is a priority for you and you do not vote, then get out and vote for candidates who prioritize a livable planet as much as you do.
The quality of life we leave for our children, grandchildren and future generations will depend on our effective climate activism.