Cascading Climate Disasters Call for Resolve, Not Despair

Climate change may be out of control but it is not beyond our ability to confront. 

Workers raising a wind turbine blade at a construction site

Workers raising a wind turbine on Colorado's Eastern Plains


Marc Morrison/Redux

Anyone watching the news this summer, or just looking out the kitchen window, might be forgiven for slipping into despair, wondering whether the climate crisis has gone too far and too fast to be turned around.

That, though, would be a mistake.

Science points to clear pathways to avert the worst of climate catastrophe. Simple economics vastly favors shifting away from fossil fuels. And momentum for progress is building, with policies that have positioned the country to cut greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half.

We must respond to the worsening climate crisis by building on these gains with new resolve, for this is no ordinary time.

For decades, climate change has inflicted rising costs and mounting dangers on our families and communities, at home and abroad. Suddenly, though, as if from a thunderclap, the world is engulfed in climate disaster at seemingly every turn.

No sooner did the planet wrap up the hottest June on record than July brought the hottest week on earth. Dangerous heat waves constrained activities for more than one in every three Americans this week while threatening people and crops across huge swaths of EuropeChina, India, Pakistan, and elsewhere.

About 40 percent of the world’s oceans are warm enough to threaten marine life. Waters off the Florida Keys are topping 96 degrees Fahrenheit, putting coral at high risk of bleaching. 

Across Canada, wildfires have burned enough land to cover the state of Indiana, sending soot-laden smoke and making air unsafe to breathe at times across the High Plains states to as far south as Virginia.

And the catastrophic flooding in Vermont mirrored the mudslides and floods caused by torrential rains in parts of China, India, and Japan

“Climate change,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, “is out of control.”

It isn’t, though, beyond our ability to confront—far from it.

What we’re glimpsing is the Janus-like face of two competing climate futures.

In one, a runaway train of climate disaster barrels down the tracks faster and faster, until people can no longer be protected anywhere as impacts overwhelm the capacity and budgets of households and governments everywhere.

In the other, climate harm is tempered and hazards reduced, over time, as the United States and other major economies accelerate the shift away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner, safer energy solutions.

The choice is ours, and it should be an easy one. 

  • Nearly two-thirds of the country (62 percent), after all, want the federal government to do more to confront the climate crisis—a solid majority in a deeply divided nation—and 74 percent back U.S. participation in international climate efforts.
  • It’s cheaper to get clean electricity from the wind and sun than from climate-polluting power plants that burn coal. 
  • And clean energy is the economic opportunity of our lifetime. It’s on track to draw a record $1.7 trillion in global investment this year, two-thirds more than comparable spending for fossil fuels, and a staggering $194 trillion between now and 2050.

What’s dragging progress in the USA is the oil and gas industry’s outsize influence on our politics. Over just the past decade, the industry spent a staggering $1.3 billion to lobby officials in Washington, D.C.. That’s on top of massive campaign contributions—$131 million in the 2022 elections alone, 83 percent of which went to Republicans.

Despite the partisanship, last August, Congress passed, and President Biden signed into law, the strongest climate action in the country’s history. The Inflation Reduction Act includes $370 billion, over 10 years, in strategic incentives to speed the shift away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner power.

It’s off to a remarkable start, driving a heartland manufacturing renaissance with clean energy at its core. It’s strengthening the domestic supply chain for the building blocks of a modern economy. And it’s positioning the country for dramatic cuts in the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving the climate crisis.

Just since the Inflation Reduction Act was enacted, companies have invested more than $84 billion to expand wind and solar power and to build domestic factories to make solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, advanced batteries, and related clean energy components.

These investments are creating more than 66,000 good jobs in GeorgiaMichiganOhioSouth CarolinaTennessee, and 33 other states, both red and blue. 

Beyond that, the Biden administration introduced new standards last spring to reduce carbon pollution from cars, trucks, and power plants that burn coal and gas. 

Done right, these standards, combined with the incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act, can position the country to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. That’s within striking distance of Biden’s pledge to cut that pollution by 50 to 52 percent.

What’s important now is to protect the federal clean energy incentives from continuing attacks by Republicans—not one of whom voted for them, in either the House or the Senate—and for the administration to finalize strong, durable, and effective carbon pollution standards to help clean up the nation’s cars, trucks, and dirty power plants.

That’s the way to respond to the cascading climate disasters unfolding before us. This is no ordinary time. It is a time, though, for action, not despair.

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