Richard Greene

Latest climate change warning still leaves solutions to us

Is climate change making hurricanes worse? Yes, here’s why.

Rising ocean temperatures have fueled some of the most devastating storms in recent years. Kendra Pierre-Louis, a reporter on The New York Time's climate team, explains how.
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Rising ocean temperatures have fueled some of the most devastating storms in recent years. Kendra Pierre-Louis, a reporter on The New York Time's climate team, explains how.

We’ve now received lots of media coverage following the release of the latest climate assessment recently completed by 13 federal agencies. The report describes severe consequences for failing to take action to stop global warming, but realistic solutions are largely missing.

Setting aside the many arguments with its findings, let’s assume their report is entirely accurate in saying we have only 10 years or so to save civilization from virtual extinction by the end of this century.

Now comes the opportunity to deal with remedies to the human causes of warming. Many have blamed the government for failing to take actions that would alter our behavior and keep the planet safe for future generations.

Such a charge is not fair. During the first two years of the Obama administration, with Democrats in total control, the government did take on the challenge of crafting an extensive law designed to cut emissions of carbon dioxide back to levels that would remove the threat to our future.

The problem Congress ran into was trying to develop a majority to pass such new legislation. With concerns about the impact on jobs and the economy in states most affected by measures designed in the proposed laws, efforts in both houses collapsed after months of debate.

Next came orders to the Environmental Protection Agency from the president to find authority in current law, most prominently the Clean Air Act, to rein in sources of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Regulations then coming from those presidential directives produced lawsuits from 27 states, 37 electric co-ops, 24 trade organizations and three labor unions to stop the implementation of the most objectionable of those rules.

The Supreme Court halted most of those initiatives, citing claims of questionable statutory authority for them.

What has always been largely avoided is an admission that it is we the people who need to assume responsibility for solving the problem. But therein lies the dilemma.

We don’t seem to be willing to do the things that would make a difference. Are we going to set our thermostats at levels that reduce our demand for electricity? Are we likely to sacrifice our SUVs and, instead, select low-emitting and electric vehicles?

Will we change our driving habits to reduce our demand for oil? Have we replaced all of our incandescent light bulbs? Are we washing all our clothes in cold water? Purchasing only energy-efficient appliances?

If you work in any of the energy industries that burn fossil fuels to generate electricity, are you ready to find some other means of making a living?

Have we calculated our family’s carbon footprint to determine our contribution to the problem of too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? EPA offers an easy way to do that, and informs us of our role in the causes of global warming – just Google the question, fill in your own data and see the results.

The government’s climate report says we have not “approached the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.”

Until we do, by whatever means we choose — whether to convince our lawmakers to force changes in our behavior or do so voluntarily — as the Lorax famously said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Then there’s the other route, and it’s the one we continue to follow: While some are truly alarmed and want something done by someone (often not themselves), the majority of us haven’t ever placed a high priority on solutions.

Believers in catastrophic warming say we are in denial. We respond by saying the climate changes all the time, and there’s no worry about that being any kind of threat.

Like all things in our system of self-government, the future is in our hands.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor, served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and lectures at UT Arlington.