Gov. Jay Inslee on the Climate Crisis: ‘We Cannot Give in to Defeat and Pessimism’
By Governor Jay Inslee
Climate Week this year coincides with clear skies in Washington state for the first time in almost two weeks.
In just a few days in early September, Washington state saw enough acres burned – more than 600,000 – to reach our second-worst fire season on record. Our worst fire season came only five years ago. Wildfires aren't new to the west, but their scope and danger today is unlike anything firefighters have seen. People up and down the West Coast – young and old, in rural areas and in cities – were choking on smoke for days on end, trapped in their homes.
Fires like these are becoming the norm, not the exception.
That's because as the climate changes, our fires change. Climate scientists tell us that if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current path, later this century the average year in Washington will eventually be warmer than the single hottest year of the 20th century. The heat leaves our land and vegetation dry and primed for ignition, with blazes for which our landscapes are not evolved to cope. We're seeing more acres burned, and more days with our state swathed in hazardous smoke and ash.
Rain, cooler weather, and heroic firefighting efforts have finally tamped down the fires and poor air quality; but the burn scars remain, and they are most acutely felt by those who lost homes, businesses, and loved ones in fires this year.
I have seen the chaos firsthand in recent visits to burned areas both east and west of the Cascade Mountains. As communities in Malden, Bonney Lake, and Graham, Washington, recover from the damage done this month, it's not enough for us as leaders to help our towns recover from one devastating event after another. We need a plan to stop these increasingly ferocious natural disasters from becoming uncontrollable. The situation demands that climate change be front and center in this plan – because it is the root and stem of the new challenges we face in disaster response.
While wildfires are the most recent, and some of the most visceral images of climate change, they are unfortunately just one manifestation of a climate crisis with far-reaching implications.
From the woods and prairies to the oceans, rivers and streams, we see the damaging effects of climate change. West Coast marine waters are acidifying at twice the global rate, our streams are becoming too warm to support salmon, and our agricultural productivity is falling as a result of record heat.
But we cannot give in to defeat and pessimism. This is not a lost cause.
There is broad consensus on what we need to do to slow and turn back the effects of human-driven climate change: all hands on deck for a global decarbonization that grows jobs and protects communities.
Every year, Climate Week gives us the opportunity to highlight this urgent need. But we need every week to be Climate Week. Given the science, knowledge and tools at our disposal, it is unacceptable that more has not been done to address the terrifying implications of climate change in the 21st century. We have no more time to waste.
We face a powerful oil and gas industry that has sunk its claws into Congress and numerous state governments, and a presidential administration backed by a major political party dedicated to protecting polluters and spreading lies and confusion about the science. On the flip side is the urgent and painfully clear scientific consensus, coupled with the fact that the majority of Americans support action now on climate change.
This is a battle that we can – and must – win, beginning with our votes in November.
And winning the fight won't just protect our communities from the dangerous effects of climate change. It will create enormous new economic opportunity.
The latest jobs report from E2, a national nonpartisan group of business leaders and investors focused on sustainable energy policies, shows there are already more than 3 million clean energy jobs in America today. If we can find the will to massively accelerate the development of renewable resources, we can create millions of more jobs.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that facts are stubborn things, and denial can be fatal. The federal government's failure to accept the reality of the Covid-19 crisis once again demonstrated why aloofness is no replacement for proactive leadership.
While we know this administration would be wise to change its destructive path – by bringing our country back into the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, by putting in place strong clean car standards, or by restoring key environmental protections razed by Trump's cronies – we know they won't. However, public opinion is clear even after years of misinformation and downright lies. There is not enough oil money in the world to stop the American people from rising up for what's right, and it's time to hit back.
Let this Climate Week be a reminder not merely of the long road ahead, but of our own power to make that journey together. Start now, so that in Climate Week 2021 we'll have a little less distance to cover.
This story originally appeared in Rolling Stone and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
New fossils uncovered in Argentina may belong to one of the largest animals to have walked on Earth.
- Groundbreaking Fossil Shows Prehistoric 15-Foot Reptile Tried to ... ›
- Skull of Smallest Known Dinosaur Found in 99-Million-Year Old Amber ›
- Giant 'Toothed' Birds Flew Over Antarctica 40 Million Years Ago ... ›
- World's Second-Largest Egg Found in Antarctica Probably Hatched ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Pruitt Guts the Clean Power Plan: How Weak Will the New EPA ... ›
- It's Official: Trump Administration to Repeal Clean Power Plan ... ›
- 'Deadly' Clean Power Plan Replacement ›
By Jonathan Runstadler and Kaitlin Sawatzki
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have found coronavirus infections in pet cats and dogs and in multiple zoo animals, including big cats and gorillas. These infections have even happened when staff were using personal protective equipment.
- Gorillas in San Diego Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Wildlife Rehabilitators Are Overwhelmed During the Pandemic. In ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
- Utah Mink Becomes First Wild Animal to Test Positive for Coronavirus ›
By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
By John R. Platt
The period of the 45th presidency will go down as dark days for the United States — not just for the violent insurgency and impeachment that capped off Donald Trump's four years in office, but for every regressive action that came before.
- Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate and Green Recovery Plan ... ›
- How Biden and Kerry Can Rebuild America's Climate Leadership ... ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- How Joe Biden's Climate Plan Compares to the Green New Deal ... ›