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Column: Fighting climate change — many steps forward, bigger steps back – The San Diego Union-Tribune

The battle against climate change appears to be firing on all levels.

The federal government last month passed the Inflation Reduction Act that is so loaded with money and strategies to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint that the legislation might have been more appropriately named the Global Warming Reduction Act.

The California Legislature last week approved a package of bills backed by Gov. Gavin Newsom that keeps the state moving forward on reducing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

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At the same time, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors took steps to further its “decarbonization” plan for the region.

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Then there was a simultaneous suggestion that higher powers are involved in addressing climate change. The National Association of Evangelicals released a report laying out a “biblical basis” for environmental activism to take on global warming.

Important as all that is, it’s hard to be optimistic that such action will move the needle away from what many scientists say is a fast-approaching planetary crisis. Confronting climate change has long seemed like rolling a big rock up a hill, except it seems the rock keeps getting bigger and the hill steeper.

A new report says ice losses in Greenland will mean nearly a foot of global sea level rise and nothing can change that, even if global-heating emissions were stopped immediately.

Another study notes that two major glaciers in Antarctica are melting faster than ever, also exacerbating the coastal flooding potential in the future.

And wildfires in California have been so bad in recent years that forests are approaching the point where their carbon emissions will surpass their carbon absorption.

This juxtaposition of hopeful action and reports of doom comes during a sweltering heat wave across the state — the presence of which has been coupled with reports that climate change makes such conditions worse.

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and other polluting emissions trap heat in the atmosphere and that can exacerbate extreme weather.

There are, of course, people who don’t believe global warming is real, or argue that its projected impacts are overstated. The increasing heat, fires, droughts and floods around the world present a convincing counterargument to that.

At best, it seems that governments and societies can at least shave the edge off climate change and help populations prepare for the fallout. That’s only if there’s concerted, coordinated global action, which, frankly, is hard to imagine these days.

Still, give credit to those who are trying to do something about it and have not as yet resigned humankind to merely going down swinging.

The federal legislation signed by President Joe Biden contains $369 billion in funding for clean energy and electric vehicle tax breaks, domestic manufacturing of batteries and solar panels, and pollution reduction. The measure seeks to wean consumers and industry off fossil fuels.

The Inflation Reduction Act also invests in other climate priorities, including forest and coastal restoration and cleaner farming operations.

The White House said the legislation could cut the social costs of climate change by up to $1.9 trillion by 2050.

Five of six climate-related bills pushed by Gov. Gavin Newsom were approved by lawmakers last week and will set interim targets for achieving 100 percent clean energy, regulate projects to remove carbon from the atmosphere and smokestacks, and end new oil drilling near communities, according to CalMatters.

A current law already requires all retail electricity to be fueled by renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2045. Some legislators question whether that goal can be met. The one bill that failed would have raised the state’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The heat wave underscored a troubling reality now and in the future. Newsom and other officials have urged Californians to limit their electricity use out of concern that the power grid could be overloaded. The state will be relying on that grid to carry even more of a load in the future as residents and businesses shift from fossil fuels to electricity.

County supervisors approved a series of sustainability measures aimed at increasing tree plantings and composting and reducing emissions, according to Deborah Sullivan Brennan of The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The county’s overarching “decarbonization” goal is to achieve “net carbon zero,” which is when carbon removed from the atmosphere equals the amount of carbon emitted.

The National Association of Evangelicals called climate action a Christian responsibility in a report called “Loving the Least of These.” The document discusses scientific evidence of climate change and cites passages in the Bible to buttress the argument for environmental activism.

The association represents 45,000 evangelical churches and has acknowledged the existence of climate change, notably in a 2011 edition of the same report. Citing a Pew Research poll, The Hill noted evangelicals are less likely than the general population to consider climate change a threat.

Part of the state and federal strategy to combat climate change is to restore and expand carbon-absorbing forests, but even that approach is being threatened in real time.

With the recent increase in wildfire intensity in California, “scientists and officials are growing increasingly concerned that the state is nearing a tipping point in which its forests emit more climate-warming carbon dioxide than they absorb,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

A paper in the journal Nature concludes that the cost of carbon dioxide emissions has been vastly underestimated. Researchers found that each additional ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere costs society $185 — more than triple the federal government’s current figure.

Some of the recent media reports about worsening climate change have included new terminology and seemingly over-the-top descriptions. California is suffering under a “heat dome,” Greenland is losing “zombie” ice and Antarctica has “doomsday” glaciers.

The future of climate change is scary enough without hyped-up language.

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