DEANGELO: Climate change is real, entails costly consequences
Opinions Column: All That Fits
Climate change is real, and the effects are spiraling now.
In this era, it is neurotically irresponsible to wage a neutral war against our warming planet. We cannot afford, physically and financially, to dance in denials or political speculations any longer. What was once classified as a distant problem, for our grandchildren and their children to face, is now fully emerging for us.
Earth’s temperature varies from year to year, but over the course of the last century we have seen an indisputable spike. That spike is because of humans. Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, trap heat and create a blanket that warms the planet. Scientists have concluded that there has been nothing, other than steady increase of emissions by people, to cause this.
Ten of the hottest years on record occurred during the past two decades, according to statistics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Hotter days mean changes in the fragile water cycle, which result in less frequent, but more concentrated and destructive weather patterns. This means catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy, Harvey and Maria can potentially become more common events.
Still, if images of hurricane devastation or polar bears straddling ice caps incite no worthy call of action for you, the economics of it will. Over the past 10 years, severe weather, as well as the health impacts of burning fossil fuels cost the U.S. $240 billion. In the coming decade, losses are predicted to mount at least $360 billion annually, potentially crippling U.S. economic growth, according to The Economic Case for Climate Action.
Boiled down, governing powers have two choices when it comes to managing the impact of climate change: spend money trying to prevent and lessen the problem or spend money cleaning it up. In most cases, prevention saves money.
But, rather than working to reduce the impact of calamity, President Donald J. Trump and his administration have been pushing for the opposite. In January, the Interior Department announced that it would expand offshore drilling — opening up nearly all of the coastal waters to more oil and gas development next year.
This has been viewed in a positive light, since its estimated that $590 billion would add to the economy over two decades. But, compared to the costs that can come with extracting and using dirty fuel, is there really that much room for profit?
Trump’s initiative is forcing the country to take a step back and rely on the resources that powered the 20th century. To remain as an economic power, we must look forward in the era we live in now. This means utilizing developing technologies, such as solar and wind power, to create sustainable long-term sources of energy. We cannot keep riding fossil fuels much longer.
In fact, the world is moving away from it. In the documentary “The Third Industrial Revolution,” economic theorist and advisor to the European Union Jeremy Rifkin lectures how clean power has become rapidly cheaper — going from $78 a solar watt in 1978 to just $.50 in 2018. Energy companies in the U.S. and Europe are even quietly buying long-term contracts in solar and wind power, Rifkin said. Soon, the fossil fuel industry will be practically finished.
Thankfully, technology has allowed for the start of an environmentalist renaissance. And if federal systems have not yet embraced it, our local systems have. On April 12, New Jersey passed two bills looking to halt greenhouse gas emissions in the state. One of them forces energy companies to prioritize renewable sources for half of their generated electricity by 2030.
In a more removed perspective, helping fix climate change can feel broad and unreachable. As Earth Day came and went, it is hard not to feel like personal actions hold no weight in the process. But, there are reductions you can take to aid — such as relying on public transportation or walking to reduce emissions, or lessening consumption of red meat, since cows are the highest producers of methane.
The reality that the United States is now the only country in the world not signed to the Paris climate agreement sends a message that implies ignorance toward the future. The fact is not whether we can afford to switch to clean energy, it is whether we can afford not to — for the sake of the economy and life itself.
Julia Deangelo is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies. Her column, "All That Fits," runs on alternate Thursdays.
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