By Elizabeth Dell and Mark Reynolds
Hurricane Ida, record-shattering heat waves in the West, wildfires in Siberia, flood — inducing rainfall in Michigan — this extreme weather 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 ... is here and now … because we have not heeded the warnings ...” The warnings date back to 1988 when Dr. James Hansen first described the “greenhouse effect” of carbon emissions. The summer of 2021 is providing an unwelcome glimpse of a hellish future if the world fails to take decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Earlier this summer, Lytton, British Columbia hit 121 degrees Fahrenheit, then literally went up in flames as a wildfire swept through. Portland, Oregon reached 115 and Seattle, Washington, where a majority of homes lack air conditioning, registered 108. Nearly 200 deaths have been attributed to these heat waves. Scientists have confirmed that such extreme heat “would have been virtually impossible without climate change.”
The fingerprints of climate change can be found on Hurricane Ida, which went from a category 2 to a category 4 storm overnight, fueled in part by rapidly warming ocean temperatures. As Ida moved from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast, it spawned tornadoes and caused historic flooding. As our average temperatures warm, the atmosphere holds more moisture which can then be released as rainfall causing more intense and longer lasting storms.
Closer to home, seven inches of rain flooded homes and highways throughout Metro Detroit in June, leading President Biden to declare Michigan a disaster relief area. They’ve been hit by more flooding since. In northern Michigan we continue to see the impacts of weather extremes to our shoreline, our infrastructure and our agriculture.
Time is up to address climate change, and the budget reconciliation process in Congress brings hope. The budget blueprint contains measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half within 10 years. To reach that target, the budget reconciliation bill should include the most effective tool in reducing carbon pollution: A robust price on carbon.
Several bills with bipartisan appeal have been introduced to set a strong price on carbon while protecting and supporting low and middle income families, frontline communities and energy veterans during the transition to a clean energy economy. These bills also protect American businesses with a border adjustment on imports from nations that do not have an equivalent price on carbon. (The budget reconciliation proposal also includes a carbon border tax.)
To ensure this indispensable tool is included in upcoming legislation, we ask Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters to advocate for a price on carbon. Sen. Peters has pointed out that “extreme weather events are already costing taxpayers trillions of dollars.”
He sees tackling cli- mate change as “cost-effective” and “an opportunity to create new jobs, improve public health, empower innovation and strengthen our economy.” Sen. Stabenow already co-sponsored legislation that provides incentives and support to farmers who implement climate friendly practices.
Congress needs to go big on solutions, or we will all suffer the future consequences.
About the authors: Elizabeth Dell is the Great Lakes regional coordinator and Mark Reynolds is executive director for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.