Advocates of addressing climate change may finally be reaching the political threshold that will force worldwide action. This year has seen the implementation of a number of critical actions, agreements and commitments that suggest we have passed a tipping point for action.
The Paris Climate Agreement surpassed the necessary number of ratifying nations last month and will go into force on November 4, 2016. An additional global limit on hydrofluorocarbons, a major contributor to global warming, was signed last month as well.
Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau announced last month that Canada will implement a national price on carbon, a huge advance in limiting CO-2 emissions. Perhaps more significant, hundreds of companies are preparing for a price on carbon. Over 600 companies have announced they are proactively planning for climate risk and many are integrating a price on carbon into their future strategies.
For years the scientific community has been warning with increasing urgency about the coming catastrophic consequences of a warming planet. They have become more vocal as their scientific research has become more compelling.
This presidential election has brought the discussion of climate change into the mainstream media for the first time. Candidates up and down the Democratic ticket have made the issue of climate change a focus in their campaigns. Hillary Clinton has proposed $60 billion to switch from dirty fossil fuels to cleaner energy. She warns that we can’t “force our children to endure the catastrophe that would result from unchecked climate change.” She supports President Obama’s pledge, “that by 2025 the U.S. will be emitting 30 percent less heat-trapping gases than in 2005.”
The Republican Party has either been in denial or refuses to act by making excuses about the costs of action. Trump is still calling climate change a myth or a hoax and vowed to cut funding for climate change in his Gettysburg speech last week. Republicans are in danger of getting left behind as the climate change train leaves the station. Republicans need to ask themselves if their continued denial and foot dragging will come back to bite them in the future.
Even though climate change is a very partisan issue that divides the parties, a perfect storm of forces are coming together to unite the world on new initiatives. One of those forces and perhaps the most important is the publics’ awareness. When the discussion of climate change was limited to melting glaciers and stranded polar bears, the public was disinterested. Now people in every country are seeing the visible changes resulting from a warming planet. Rising worldwide sea levels, mega-droughts, larger hurricanes and massive flooding has grabbed the publics’ attention for the first time.
Here in Iowa the recent flooding in Cedar Rapids has elevated the effects of climate change for many Iowans. This 2016 flood combined with record floods in 2008 and 2010 have Iowans worried. This is the one of the wettest and hottest years in Iowa history which is consistent with predictions of a warmer planet. Farmers are regognizing that they are dealing with a changing weather pattern that is effecting their livelihood.
The Iowa scientific community just published their latest annual report calling for the support of the Paris Climate Agreement by limiting human caused global warming. It recognized Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack’s initiative for Climate‐Smart Agriculture and calls on Iowa to lead the world on limiting global warming greenhouse gases. Tom Vilsack is likely to play an important role in the Clinton Administration and if he wants to remain in Washington will have a critical voice in the climate discussion. If he returns to Iowa he will likely remain a national voice on the climate.
Worldwide change due to the warming globe is shaping policies from national security to food security. Recently, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, spoke at Iowa colleges about the national security risks of climate change. He warned that military bases are at risk from rising sea levels and will require the erection of expensive sea walls, or in some cases total base relocation. A Republican, Wilkerson said many in his party continue to deny the reality of climate change. In an Op-Ed in the Des Moines Register he repeated the goal of the Paris climate agreement to keep temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Centigrade to avoid catastrophe.
All these events suggest a crucial turning point has been reached. There is a growing consensus forming between business, government, the military and the scientific community that we can and will act to combat climate change.
by Rick Smith