You don’t need to gaze into the future to see the effects of our global climate crisis, you need only look to earlier this summer, when triple-digit temperatures sent thousands to the emergency room and claimed the lives of more than 120 Washingtonians.
That heat wave would have been “virtually impossible” in the past — without climate change, experts said, and a new report warns that those extreme weather events may become regular occurrences.
The grimly authoritative forecast by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds it’s too late to stop the immediate impact on the planet caused by human activity. Already, global warming is causing more severe and frequent heat waves, droughts and storms throughout the world.
Without decisive and effective action to slow the pace of climate change, these deadly events will only become more and more likely. In the case of sea-level rise, the report finds that it will continue for hundreds of years, even if emissions decrease, but doing nothing further endangers vulnerable coastal areas.
The massive, almost 4,000-page report paints a dire picture if we fail to act, but it also shows there is still time to reach the global goal of net zero emissions by 2050, said Ko Barrett, deputy assistant administrator for research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a vice chair on the IPCC.
“A key message here is that it is still possible to forestall most of the most dire impacts, but it really requires unprecedented, transformational change,” she said. “The idea that there still is a pathway forward I think is a point that should give us some hope.”
As if on cue, a day after the report was released, the U.S. Senate approved a bipartisan infrastructure bill Tuesday that includes several provisions meant to be a first step on climate action by Congress.
The roughly $1.2 trillion proposal would dedicate $65 billion for clean energy transmission, $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations, $2.5 billion for electric ferries and $5 billion for zero emission buses.
That is a lot of money, but hardly the kind of transformational change needed. For that, we must look to the $3.5 trillion budget proposal backed by the Biden administration. It aims to halve domestic greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030 and would be the most significant climate legislation ever taken up by Congress.
Along with expanded health care, child care and education programs, the ambitious budget includes tax incentives for clean energy and electric vehicles, as well as a substantial investment in renewable energy. It also earmarks $198 billion for clean energy development and $135 billion to address forest fires, drought and reduce carbon emissions.
The proposal still has a long way to go, and faces strong political headwinds from some moderate Democrats, but as deals are struck and compromises likely made, effectively addressing climate change must remain at the forefront.
With the world running out of time, there is no room for half measures.