Last month, the White House released its National Climate Assessment. The assessment is a product of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which "was established by Presidential Initiative in 1989 and mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990 to 'assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.'"
The assessment sums up the problem with this statement: "Global climate is changing and this is apparent across the United States in a wide range of observations. The global warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels."
To see how climate change is affecting the U.S. already, readers should check out the National Climate Assessment state-of-the-art website at http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/.
Right on the heels of the that release, two major peer-reviewed studies were published in Science and Geophysical Research Letters. Two different studies using different methods came to the same startling conclusion — glaciers in the Amundsen Sea region of the great Antarctic ice sheet have begun the process of irreversible collapse.
That by itself would raise sea levels 4 feet in the coming centuries. Even worse, due to the topography these glaciers act "as a linchpin on the rest of the [West Antarctic] ice sheet, which contains enough ice to cause" a total of 12 to 15 feet of global sea level rise, as the University of Washington news release for the Science study explains. Think of the melting of these glaciers like pulling the cork out of a bottle tipped on its side, its contents are the West Antarctic ice sheet spilling into the ocean.
In their latest report out this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns of sea level rise of one to three feet this century. These new findings mean sea level rise estimates will be revised upward yet again.
Our climate is changing faster than the science can keep up.
Scientists have been warning us of several feared tipping points, and it appears we've passed the first, which will result in the irreversible collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet. While the ice sheet's collapse certainly won't happen overnight, it has passed a point of no return and is irreversible.
Our refusal to own up to our responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately will result in much higher sea levels that devastate the world's coastlines. Many cities are already dealing with rising seas. Mitt Romney made a now infamous joke at the 2012 Republican convention, "President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans," which got a huge laugh from the crowd. Months later coastal residents in New Jersey and New York weren't laughing as storm surge from Hurricane Sandy devastated their communities, a problem made worse by sea levels that have already risen.
After this a $20 billion proposal to build sea walls to protect New York City from rising seas and storm surge was announced.
This is the cost to protect just one city. Imagine the staggering costs we are putting on future generations to protect thousands of coastal communities worldwide. Communities that don't have the resources to fend for themselves will likely be abandoned and taxpayers will shoulder the immense costs of protection for those lucky enough to be afforded protection.
Sea levels have risen due to thermal expansion (as oceans warm they expand) and melt of land-based ice draining into the seas; This is a measured and observed fact. There is overwhelming evidence that the rate of sea level rise is increasing and will continue this century.
Climate change amounts to a massive failure of the free market. The costs of damages from and adaptation to climate change are not included in the price of carbon-based fuels. Congress continues to allow the market to be unfairly distorted, favoring fossil fuels as the preferred energy choice to the detriment of society.
Economists overwhelmingly agree that putting a steadily rising price on carbon emissions is the simplest method of reducing emissions. Returning 100 percent of the revenue collected equally back to every household as a dividend puts the money back into the hands of the consumer, allowing each and every one of us to make the choice of where we want our money to go.
Do you want to continue to support dirty sources of energy like Brunner Island's coal-fired power plant that pollute our air and will become more expensive as time goes on? Or would you rather keep more and more of your dividend and support clean, carbon-free sources of energy that will become increasingly cheaper, don't pollute our air and water, change our climate and inundate our coastlines with rising seas?
The choice should be a no-brainer.
— Jon Clark is Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby.