Commentary - April 17th, 2014
10:28 am
Tue April 22, 2014

Swift and Substantial Action on Climate Change

The International Panel on Climate, or IPCC, released another report on Sunday.  Written by thousands of science, policy, and economic experts, this IPCC report, along with others that have been released in the last year, represent a synthesis of existing climate research knowledge.  The findings in the reports are alarming, and while the report is very detailed in its research the results can be summarized rather easily with four main points.  One, the climate is changing.  Two, carbon pollution is almost certainly responsible for the change.  Three, the environmental, social and economic costs of the changing climate almost certainly will be substantial unless we act quickly to significantly reduce carbon pollution.  And four, the economic costs of switching from a high carbon, fossil fuels based economy to a low carbon one are relatively small.

Let’s take a look at each one of those points a little more closely.  The first one, that the climate is changing, is pretty obvious to most of us who have been around for a while.  All we have to do is look out the window and read the news to notice that something is different than when we were younger.  The IPCC report provides the science that backs up the obvious anecdotal evidence.  According to the IPCC reports, global land and ocean surface temperatures show a warming of 1.5®F over the period between 1880 and 2012.  In the Northern Hemisphere the span between 1983 to 2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years.  The reports also outline that extreme weather events like heat waves, droughts, and floods are also on the rise.

The IPCC reports address rather directly point two, that carbon pollution is causing the changes in climate.  The report states that “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming.”   Putting a number to that statement, the report says that there is a 95% probability that man-made emissions, rather than natural variations, are the main cause of the warming. 

These first two findings aren’t that different than previous versions of the IPCC reports.  It is with point three, that we need to act quickly to avert serious consequences, that the new IPCC reports take on a more urgent tone.  The reports say to avert the worst effects of climate change sharp carbon emissions cuts worldwide need to begin now, with a 40 to 70 percent reduction by mid-century.  In other words, we can’t wait to make changes and the changes we make need to be significant. 

From a policy standpoint, these findings should weigh heavily in the government decisions now pending regarding the development of new dirty fossil fuel projects. New traditional coal-fired power plants and coal development projects like southeast Montana’s Otter Creek Mine and developments that facilitate the transport of dirty oil, like the Keystone XL Pipeline, clearly would be steps in the wrong direction at the very time that we need to be making significant strides to reduce carbon. 

This leads up to the fourth main point in the new IPCC reports, that we can make the changes needed to reduce our carbon footprint without undue economic burden.  Without even taking into account the benefits (like cleaner air and less pollution) the IPCC reports show the cost of switching to the kind of needed low emissions world would reduce yearly global economic productivity by only 0.06 percent.  Compare that with the dire environmental, social, and economic costs of doing nothing, and any sensible form of risk analysis shows that the world should quickly and drastically move away from dirty fossil fuels like coal and oil and invest in low carbon alternatives that cut energy waste and promote renewable energy. 

The IPCC report shows that all this is possible.  We simply need to galvanize the social and political will to do so.  To this end, more than 75 sponsoring organizations and businesses will be hosting a series of simultaneous “Montana Climate Solutions” events on the afternoon of April 26th.  Events will be held in Bigfork, Billings, Bozeman, Columbia Falls, Great Falls, Hamilton, Helena, Kalispell, Lame Deer, Missoula, Pablo, Red Lodge and Whitefish.  Each event will be a little different.  Most will have engaging speakers, and all of them will have the opportunity for attendees to voice their opinions and help mobilize Montanans to advocate for “climate solutions” right here in the state and across the country and the globe. 

For more information about the “Montana Climate Solutions” event nearest you, please go to http://meic.org/events/climate.  I hope you’ll be able to attend one of them.  Addressing the changing climate is one of the most important issues of our time.  Solutions to the problem exist.  But to get the government decision makers to act on them we need to join together and speak up before it’s too late.        

This is Dave Dittloff, Regional Representative for the National Wildlife Federation.  Thanks for listening.