2017: Climate disasters and heroes

Jon Clark
Citizens' Climate Lobby

As a climate advocate, I look back on 2017 and can’t help but feel a sense of relief that this year is coming to an end. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just released their third-quarter report on billion-dollars-plus disasters which hammered our nation between January and October of this year.  

According to NOAA, “In 2017 (as of Oct. 6), there have been 15 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the U. S. These events included one drought event, two flooding events, one freeze event, seven severe storm events, three tropical cyclone events, and one wildfire event. Overall, these events resulted in the deaths of 282 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted.” 

The 2017 hurricane season alone was the costliest ever for the U.S. This was the first year on record in which three Category 4 hurricanes made landfall in the U. S., contributing to over $200 billion in damages in the U.S. alone. Three months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the territory is still experiencing a “super blackout,” the longest and largest power outage in modern American history. Many are still without power, and the island is not expected to have full power until May, a stunning eight months after the storm.

President Donald Trump’s 2017 withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and repeal of the Clean Power Plan were as disastrous as this year’s hurricane season. Both were designed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions which are warming the planet and giving fuel to these extreme weather events. While the world’s leaders met earlier this month in Paris for an invitation-only climate change summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump was not invited. The U.S. is the only nation on earth to oppose the Paris Agreement and refuse to join every other nation in combating global climate change.

But 2017 was not entirely bad climate news in the U.S. Business leaders such as Elon Musk and Michael Bloomberg have stepped up to try to fill the leadership void on the climate issue. Elon Musk’s Tesla introduced the Model 3 to the world. No other car has likely been so anticipated, with half a million people shelling out a thousand dollars to reserve a car that wouldn’t be delivered for more than a year. The Model 3 is a game-changing electric car, with 220 miles of range at a cost of $35,000, before incentives.

While Donald Trump was announcing the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, Bloomberg’s charity announced an additional $64 million (on top of the $110 million already donated) to accelerate the retirements of coal-fired power plants in this country. Bloomberg also represented a coalition of U.S. politicians at the climate talks in Bonn, Germany this year. The coalition, named We Are Still In, is comprised of “more than 2,500 leaders from America’s city halls, state houses, boardrooms and college campuses, representing more than 130 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy” We are Still In is committed to delivering on the U.S.pledge to climate action. 

Perhaps my favorite piece of good news on climate change in the U.S. is the growth of the House Climate Solutions Caucus. The Caucus, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, is currently 62 members strong. The last Republican to join came as a surprise to many. Rep. Matt Gaetz, whose district lies in the Florida panhandle, introduced legislation in February that would “terminate” the EPA at the end of 2018.  Nine months later, Gaetz is the one of the newest members of the Climate Solutions Caucus.

According to a November article in the Pensacola News Journal: “constituents and critics should not conflate his disdain for the federal government's environmental regulatory agency with his views on if the planet's temperature poses dangers for mankind.”

While his introduction of legislation to abolish the EPA seems counter to joining the solutions focused climate caucus, Gaetz reassured, "I don't think there's a scientific debate left to be had on if it is happening. I also think history is going to judge very harshly climate change deniers, and I don't want to be one of them." While Gaetz’s legislation to abolish the EPA is not receiving any serious consideration, the Climate Solutions Caucus is receiving much consideration.

The 62 members of the caucus are doing exactly what Gaetz said we need to do when he told the News Journal “We should be focused on solutions."

Jon Clark is Mid-Atlantic regional co-coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby and lives in Lancaster. 

Jon Clark