Letter: Urgent action needed on climate change threat

The climate crisis is gaining attention among voters, 40 years after it gained the attention of scientists. Most Americans now realize human induced climate change is an existential threat requiring significant policy changes. Many politicians and some scientifically illiterate people are still denying reality.

The additional energy trapped as heat because of greenhouse gases is equivalent to 500,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs every day, according to James Hansen, former director of NASA Institute for Space Studies.

What can an individual do?

1. Voice - advocate for the science based policies and educate those around you.

2. Choices - consumption equals pollution, infinite consumption on a finite planet is illogical. Choose two or fewer children, consume less and eat a plant-rich diet.

3. Vote - zero votes for candidates without a plan to get to zero emissions.

What policy changes need to be made?

1. Regulation - plastic in the ocean, nitrate in wells, pushing opioids and the 2008 banking crisis prove people will not do the right thing without regulation.

2. Subsidies - stop giving billions in taxpayer subsidies to fossil fuel companies. We should not be forced to subsidize our own destruction so multinational corporations can profit. Reward what we want: renewable energy, sustainable agricultural, and energy efficiency.

3. Taxes - tax greenhouse gas emissions. Start low and increase yearly to allow adaptation while driving down emissions. Rich people consume more so will be taxed more.

4. Research - we must continue to look for solutions to prevent and mitigate.

What are the solutions - Based on “Drawdown the Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” edited by Paul Hawken?:

1. 30 percent food production methods, food waste and eating habits.

2. 23 percent renewable energy.

3. 14 percent land use changes, reforestation, and alternative crops.

4. 12 percent education of girls and access to birth control (biggest impact per dollar).

5. 11 percent alternative materials - coolants, cement, plastics, building standards (mandatory solar, heat pumps, lighting).

6. 6 percent building and city changes.

7. 4 percent transportation.

These changes will cost $27 trillion through 2050 but will save $74 trillion.

For 800,000 years carbon dioxide level fluctuated between 200 and 280 ppm. It is currently at 415 ppm. Forty years from now it will be 600 with business as usual.

Eight countries produce 50 percent of emissions, United States is currently second to China but is still first in total emissions through history. Emissions both around the world and in the U.S. are still increasing.

We must focus on the policies that get the most emissions reductions the fastest. That means closing down fossil fuel power plants. There are 10 industries that dominate emissions in the U.S. including steel, concrete, paper, chemicals, nonferrous metals and fertilizer.

According to the IPCC, leading climate scientists from around the world, we must get to 100 percent renewable energy for electricity by 2030 and zero net emissions by 2050 to have a 50 percent chance of maintaining a livable climate. Is 50 percent enough for you?

Why don’t we take action on this urgent problem? People are very good at responding to immediate threats like an attacking animal or a fire. They are poor at reacting to slowly progressing threats with unknown consequences. People keep smoking when they know it is risky. People fail to save enough for retirement. Also, fossil fuel companies and politicians have lied to us. Creating doubt allowed science deniers to postpone action. 

The Green New Deal could unite the country in common effort as the New Deal did during the Depression. We could transform our infrastructure, create good jobs, make a more just society and create a more resilient country. We have a chance to lead by example and produce the ideas and materials  required for change.

No country can solve the climate crisis alone. This is the vehicle that forces us to work together across borders for our joint survival against a common enemy.

Quit pretending sustainability is optional. By definition, if we don’t work for a livable climate we are killing future generations.

Bryan Van Gorp