In terms of weather, this summer — even in all of its storm-induced power outage glory — has not been particularly noteworthy; that’s probably because it pales in comparison to the weather antics of 2012. However, as a heat wave scorched a huge swath of the country in mid-July, especially in the Midwest, I was reminded of what’s in store if we continue to act sluggishly in solving our current climate-change trajectory.
The existence of extreme weather is obvious to Minnesotans. That’s because, according to FEMA data, nearly 100 percent of us live in counties that have been affected by at least one federally declared weather-related disaster since 2007. Last year alone, we witnessed the devastating consequences of unchecked carbon pollution through climate-associated weather events like Hurricane Sandy and devastating droughts here in the Midwest.
The year 2012 brought more than $100 billion in damages incurred from weather-related disasters in the United States, including $100 million from severe flooding in Duluth. It was also the hottest year on record, with more than 34,000 high temperature records set across the country, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In April we also got the unwelcome news that our parts per million (PPM) of carbon in the atmosphere passed the 400 mark.
The bottom line is that global warming is fueling the extreme weather that we’ve witnessed, and it will only become more frequent and severe unless we act.
Still reeling from more than a year of record-breaking heat, rampant drought and wildfires, and destructive storms, we can be reassured knowing that the last few months have brought a flurry of political and policy action.
Here’s the rundown:
In May, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Solar Energy Jobs Act, which requires a more than 30-fold increase in solar power by the end of the decade. It also sets a goal of getting 10 percent of Minnesota’s electricity from the sun by 2030. This is in addition to the state’s existing renewable energy standard of 25 percent by 2025. The recent solar bill represents yet another step that Minnesota has taken to actualize a cleaner, smarter, and global warming-free future.
On June 25, President Obama unveiled a plan to fight global warming, adding a national commitment to the commitment Minnesota legislators already made.
The president’s plan not only limits carbon pollution from dirty power plants – the largest contributor to global warming in the United States – but also advances energy efficiency, increases the nation’s commitment to renewable energy, ensures that communities are better equipped to prepare for and react to global warming-related impacts, and looks to rebuild American leadership on the global stage.
Responsive to public comments
Millions of Americans have been calling for this kind of bold action. Last year, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency first proposed limiting industrial carbon pollution from power plants, more than 3.2 million Americans, and 48,000 Minnesotans, submitted public comments in support of carbon pollution limits.
Now, by confronting our nation’s biggest carbon polluters, the president is showing he’s committed to solving global warming.
President Obama has taken some bold steps in the right direction, and the public will need to continue to show our support every step of the way until we can reduce global-warming pollution to levels science says is safe. Protecting future generations of Minnesotans from the worst impacts of global warming will take all of us working together, and the president’s announcement in June along with local policy finally puts us firmly on the right path.
Expect delays, blocking actions
On the way there, polluters and their beholden congressional allies will do all they can to block, delay, or weaken progress. But given both the scientific and physical evidence of global warming, the vast majority of people across the country know that we must control the largest sources of pollution.
Although the weather so far this summer has proved relatively tame, we need to consider the scope of this calm. Climate change is not in some far and distant future; it is here now. No one action can get us to 100 percent renewable energy and stop global warming. There’s a long road still ahead, but standing together, with Obama’s leadership and that of Minnesota’s leaders, we can build stronger communities and a better environment for our children and grandchildren.
Madeline Page is a recent graduate of the College of Saint Benedict and the federal field organizer for Environment Minnesota, a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.
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