While the news outlets were fixated on important topics like Stormy Daniels, Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee, a boring government agency observed an Earth milepost last month. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, April was our dear old planet’s 400th straight warmer-than-normal month. That is, every one of the 400 months since February of 1985 has been warmer than Earth’s normal temperature.
That was not a real surprise. NASA has reported that 17 out of 18 of our world’s warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. Records of global surface temperature have been kept for 136 years.
The temperature rise has coincided with a dramatic rise in the carbon dioxide level in Earth’s atmosphere--from 316 parts per million in 1951 to 410 ppm last year. That is not surprising, either, because humans release billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year from fossil fuels and industry, including about 37 billion tons last year. The carbon dioxide is trapped in our confined atmosphere where it is warmed by the sun, making our planet slightly toastier every year.
Observable signs of warming are all around us, if we care to see them. The vast amounts of carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels have caused the oceans to become more acidic, endangering aquatic life and fish populations. Forest fires have increased in intensity. Violent weather with massive downpours is becoming commonplace--Sandy, Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Ellicott City, Maryland, just suffered its second 1000-year flood in two years. The ice shelves on the poles and Greenland are melting at an alarming rate. Tropical plants, animals and diseases are creeping northward around the globe. Military planners worry that wide-spread droughts brought about by climate change will result in the mass migration of people, starvation, fights over resources and a consequent national security threat to the U.S.
The sun and wind are inexhaustible sources of cheap and clean power. We have the technology to harness both to fulfill our energy needs. Solar and wind power do not pose an existential threat to our children and grandchildren, as do fossil fuels. They have become cheaper than coal and they provide many more jobs.
Our country’s official response to a warming climate has been to double down on fossil fuels, despite their dangerous side effects. Rather than moving toward a safe energy future, our national effort is being conducted in the rear-view mirror. It is proposed that taxpayer money be spent on subsidizing tired old coal-fired plants so they can keep wheezing out emissions that pollute the country’s land and water. Climate scientists have been silenced and references to climate change have been scrubbed from government websites. We have buried our governmental head in the sand and will come to regret it.
Were it not for the fact that climate change somehow got identified as a wedge issue, Americans would have tackled this clear and present danger years ago. It is not too late to do the rational thing and embrace a change to new technologies to power the country into the future. Let’s not make our descendants bemoan the fact that we consigned them to a struggle for existence on a scorched earth.
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Jim Jones is former Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court and a frequent contributor to the Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls Press.