Earth & Environment

January 3, 2019: It’s Even Worse Than We Thought— But There Is Hope

Posted on January 03, 2019 at 12:00 AM

A Dire Outlook

Three reports on climate change have recently been issued, and each one is like a punch to the gut. In spite of 45’s “gut” telling him that climate change isn’t real, these scientifically based findings show the near-term changes coming to our earth if immediate and drastic action isn’t taken on a global basis. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Climate Assessment reports present detailed evidence of the climatic changes already taking place, and show that we have approximately 12 years to slow the rate of greenhouse gas emissions before the earth reaches a point where we can no longer stop the warming trend. According to these reports, the amount of temperature rise must be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (approx. 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit) to keep the earth livable. At the December international climate meeting in Poland, Sir David Attenborough said that if this limit is not achieved in the next few years, human civilization could topple and great numbers of animal species could go extinct. The third report (1) confronts us with the frightening news that worldwide carbon emissions in 2018 have risen after two years of relatively flat emissions levels.

Over the 3 1/2 billion years of life on earth, five major extinction events have occurred, some more wide ranging than others. But in each event, no matter the cause or how many species disappeared, the dominant species always became extinct, like the dinosaurs in the extinction event of 65 million years ago. The current dominant species is homo sapiens—us.  In the face of these urgent warnings, we hear that not only does 45 choose to be utterly ignorant of this clear and present danger, but also so does his party. GOP leaders are following POTUS in denial, if not of actual climate change, but of the fact that it is primarily caused by human activity. This means that none of these leaders will support taking any of the significant actions needed to reduce the US carbon footprint and to build in resiliency for vulnerable communities already suffering from the disasters driven by climate change. The administration is actively making the situation worse by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, and rolling back every regulation designed to reduce America’s emissions of greenhouse gases.

Some Light Ahead

In the face of the GOP’s stubborn refusal to accept reality, many state and local activists and political leaders are not waiting to take action. Here in DC, a coalition of several dozen environmental groups have been conducting for over two years a campaign for bold action. Endorsed by the WNDC Board of Governors, this campaign included collecting over 10,000 petition signatures, lobbying City Council members, holding meetings with Council staffs and business representatives, and holding rallies. This culminated with the introduction this July to the City Council of the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018 (2). As of this writing, it was passed unanimously in its current version on the Council’s first vote. The second and final vote is scheduled for December 18th.

The Clean Energy Act is one of the most forward-looking plans for carbon reduction in the US, even surpassing California’s plan. If passed in its present form, the Act would require 100% of the city’s electric power to be purchased from renewal sources, like wind and solar, by 2032. Since 75% of DC’s carbon emissions come from buildings, the Act establishes strong building energy performance standards on new and existing buildings including those of 10,000 square feet and up by 2026. It increases by a modest amount the fee we already pay to the Sustainable Energy Trust Fund for electricity and natural gas, and adds a small new fee for fuel oil, much of which will go to assist low-income rate payers. Finally, it ties the amount of vehicle excise taxes we already pay to vehicle fuel efficiency, with electric vehicles exempted from the tax.

So while we face a frightening present and future, many Americans aren’t waiting for federal action, including here in the nation’s capital. All of these signs of hope are examples of thinking globally but acting locally, perhaps the best way of taking on such an enormous challenge.

— Jean Stewart, Chair, Earth and Environment Task Force

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