“Coasts are experiencing the adverse consequences of hazards related to climate and sea level.”
That sentence is not about Hurricanes Harvey, Irma or Maria. It was written in 2007 as one of the conclusions reached by our leading climate scientists for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
IPCC’s global assessment continued: “Coasts are highly vulnerable to extreme events, such as storms, which impose substantial costs on coastal societies. Annually, about 120 million people are exposed to tropical cyclone hazards, which killed 250,000 people from 1980 to 2000.”
Scientists in 2007 were already alarmed by a then all-time record of 383 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This past August it reached 405 ppm.
Scientists tell us that no single weather event can be attributed solely to human-driven climate change. They have told us that, with the continuing build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere, severe weather events will increase in frequency. The trapping of heat in a fossil fuel emissions-choked atmosphere inevitably will melt polar ice and raise sea levels.
Texas officials reported that Hurricane Harvey took the lives of 82 people. At least 42 deaths in Florida, and at least 38 in the Caribbean were caused by Hurricane Irma. As I write this, the Washington Post reported from Puerto Rico: “Hurricane Maria delivered a destructive full-body blow to this U.S. territory on Wednesday, ripping off metal roofs, generating terrifying and potentially lethal flash floods, knocking out 100 percent of the island’s electrical grid and decimating some communities.”
The financial toll is also enormous. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott estimated that Harvey will cause $150 billion to $180 billion in damage. Using his lower figure, and distributing the total over the roughly 100 million taxpaying households in the United States, it comes to about $1,500 per family. And that is the cost for just one storm. Storms are coming with increased frequency. Houston alone, in the last three years, has experienced three “500-year” floods.
It is deeply distressing that Congress has done nothing the past 10 years to reduce this ever-increasing danger. However, there is one bright spot deserving our attention and support. There is now a bipartisan movement in the U.S. House of Representatives to address climate change.
Called the “Climate Solutions Caucus,” it was started in February 2016 by Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., and Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla. It’s not just by chance that the caucus is led by these two representatives from Florida. During the last decade, flooding during high tide in Miami Beach has become a regular occurrence.
Members of the House cannot enter this caucus as an individual, but only as a member of a Republican-Democratic pair. In the first year-and-a-half of the caucus, it has grown from two to 56 members, meaning that more than 10 percent of representatives in the House belong to this caucus.
Rep. Curbelo declared: “The Climate Solutions Caucus is evidence that there is a growing, diverse and bipartisan coalition of members of Congress ready to put petty politics aside and find meaningful solutions to the challenges posed by sea-level rise and climate change. We have a responsibility to our constituents and future generations to … have a productive fact-based dialogue about market-oriented solutions, investments and innovations that could mitigate the effects of climate change.”
We cannot afford, in any sense of that word, for our elected officials to do nothing while the danger is steadily increasing. The solutions-focused caucus should include all members of Congress who recognize the severity of the risks that lie ahead. To date, only one of Wisconsin’s eight U.S. representatives — Rep. Mark Gallagher, a Republican — is a member. Wisconsin’s other seven elected representatives should be strongly encouraged to join.
A solution is possible. Citizens’ Climate Lobby is encouraging Congress to adopt carbon fee and dividend legislation. By taxing carbon at the source, and distributing the proceeds to American households, it would use a market-based approach to push forward wind and solar-power technologies, increasingly replacing fossil fuels. Alaska for decades has had an oil dividend program, which has been a boon for all the state’s residents.
The climate is not a red state/blue state issue. With irony, Andy Kowalczyk wrote in New Orleans’ The Lens: “Waters in the Gulf of Mexico are not registered with the Democratic or Republican party, and will not be governed solely by the party in power.” Let’s move forward with climate change solutions so that we, our children and our grandchildren are not paying for our inaction with the loss of lives and financial resources.