The climate crisis is not going to pause. Consider what has happened with climate in the United States just this summer.
In 24 hours, Hurricane Ida went from barely qualifying as a hurricane to a Category 4 hurricane with wind speeds of 150 mph. This “rapid intensification” of Ida was fueled by the warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico and is one of many results of global warming. After making landfall in Louisiana, Ida traveled more than 1,000 miles before causing unprecedented flooding in New York and New Jersey. The record for rainfall in an hour had just been set 11 days previously by Tropical Storm Henri.
Hurricane Ida didn’t just break this record but shattered it, adding an additional inch of rain in an hour to the old record.
Meanwhile, the western United States is suffering from an extended drought, with wildfires threatening to break records for acreage burned. And, hundreds of people died at the beginning of this summer from the heat waves that stifled the Pacific Northwest, a part of the country where air conditioning isn’t prevalent because it was rarely needed prior to global warming.
Folks, I think it is time that we take action on the climate crisis. This is not something we can hit a pause button on. There is no reset option. The United States has already emitted about 400 billion tons of carbon dioxide since the beginning of the industrial revolution. And since carbon dioxide is a long-lived compound, some of the carbon dioxide emitted at the beginning of the industrial revolution in centuries ago is still impacting our climate today. And some of the carbon dioxide that we emit today will impact the climate in 2100 and well beyond. We have already balked at climate change for decades.
It’s not too late to act, according to the most recent United Nations report, but the window of opportunity is closing. We need to urgently transition away from fossil fuels and to renewable sources of energy, such as solar and wind with battery storage. Some West Virginians see this transition as threatening. Clearly, change is difficult, and fundamental change will always be a challenge.
But here’s what the National Academy of Sciences thinks about the transition to clean energy. The clean energy transition “provides an opportunity to build a more competitive U.S. economy, to increase the availability of high-quality jobs, to build an energy system without the social injustices that permeate the current system, and to allow those individuals and businesses that are marginalized today to share equitably in future benefits.”
I would add another benefit to this list: a healthier country. Burning fossil fuels is unhealthy. Whether its emissions from cars or power plants, burning fossil fuels produces fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5. This fine particulate matter gets deep into lungs causing asthma, exasperating COPD and causing premature deaths.
Harvard and other universities found that 22% of all deaths across the globe for people over 14 years of age are related to burning fossil fuels. And the WVU School of Law Center for Energy and Sustainable Development found that adopting renewable energy sources will reduce deaths in West Virginia by almost 100 by 2025 and almost 150 by 2035. These were the conservative number of avoidable deaths. The actual numbers could be much higher.
A more competitive economy, quality jobs, social justice and a healthier population — I would not pause adopting these benefits. I hope Congress will not either, and will find the political courage to address the climate crisis by passing the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package. We have dithered too long already. It’s time to act decisively to address the climate crisis.