The shocking extreme weather of late, from the deadly devastation of Hurricane Ida to wildfires forcing evacuations from Lake Tahoe, comes as no surprise to scientists who warned for decades that we are heading toward climate catastrophe.
"These extremes are something we knew were coming," climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe recently told the Washington Post. "The suffering that is here and now is because we have not heeded the warnings sufficiently."
Those warnings go back to 1988 when then-NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen testified before Congress that ''we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause-and-effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and observed warming.''
The "greenhouse effect" Dr. Hansen referred to is the additional carbon dioxide humans have emitted by burning coal, oil and gas. As more CO2 accumulates, more heat is trapped in the atmosphere. 2021 is providing an unwelcome glimpse of the hellish future that awaits if the world fails to take decisive action to drastically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.
A warming climate has contributed to supercharged conditions in the Gulf of Mexico with unusually warm seawater temperatures helping power Hurricane Ida inland on its path of destruction in Louisiana. It roared ashore with sustained winds of 150 mph leaving low-lying communities under water and hundreds of thousands of people without electricity and running water. Sadly, the storm's wrath did not end there, with the resulting tropical depression fueling conditions for dangerous tornadoes and dumping record-breaking rain on New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania with deadly consequences.
This weather disaster is the latest in a rapid succession of climate change-fueled weather events across the United States In August, inland flooding devastated the town of Waverly, Tennessee, leaving 20 people dead and highlighting how flooding isn't just a concern for coastal communities.
Just ten days prior to Ida, New York City was reeling from an onslaught of unprecedented precipitation as Hurricane Henri generated record rainfall with 1.91 inches falling between 11 p.m. and midnight on Aug. 21. That record was swiftly beaten by Ida with 3.15 inches falling in one hour. When incidents like this occur back-to-back, cities and states do not have time to recover, putting them even more at risk.
Meanwhile, in the west, California firefighters are facing an uphill battle against the Caldor Fire as it threatens the tourism resort of South Lake Tahoe. No wildfire had ever crossed from the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada to the eastern until this summer â€“ when it happened twice. Just like the Dixie Fire, now California's largest wildfire in state history, the Caldor Fire is spreading with unexpected ferocity.
Here in Oregon we are experiencing an unrelenting drought, with more than 99% of Newberg's surface area under "D2--severe drought" as classified by www.drought.gov. Even though the historic Bootleg fire was contained several weeks ago, fire crews continue to battle a series of blazes in a forest corridor east of I-5. Agriculture has also been severely impacted by the lack of water. Newberg has barely had a rain shower since the beginning of summer.
The cumulative effect of these weather-related disasters sends a clear message: Time is up to address climate change.
Signs of hope emerged recently as the budget reconciliation process continues in Congress. The budget blueprint contains measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the aim of cutting those emissions in half within 10 years. To reach that target, the budget reconciliation bill should include the essential tool most effective in reducing carbon pollution: A robust price on carbon.
Several bills have been introduced to set a strong price on carbon and the policy idea has bipartisan appeal. These bills would protect American businesses with a carbon border adjustment mechanism on imports from nations that do not have an equivalent price on carbon. The budget reconciliation proposal includes such a carbon border tax. In order to comply with World Trade Organization rules, the U.S. would likely need a domestic carbon price to impose a levy at the border.
To ensure that the indispensable tool of carbon pricing is included in upcoming legislation, we ask Sens. Wyden and Merkley and Congresswoman Bonamici to support a price on carbon as part of the budget reconciliation negotiations.
It is encouraging that Suzanne Bonamici already understands the importance of a price on carbon. The Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, of which she is a member, released an action plan of climate change in June 2020, which states "Congress should repeal tax breaks for large oil and gas companies as a first step toward building a fairer tax code that supports reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. Congress also should put a price on carbon to correct the failure of the market to account for the costs of unmitigated pollution."
The many natural disasters which have occurred in the 15 months since the publication of this action plan only serve to underscore the urgent need for climate legislation.
Recent extreme-weather disasters underscore that we are running out of time to address climate change. Congress needs to go big on solutions or we will all suffer the future consequences.
Henry Williams is a volunteer with the Portland chapter of Citizens' Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is the executive director of Citizens' Climate Lobby.
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