Climate change is not only here with August being the warmest month in recorded history, it is the only existential threat the United States faces. It may be difficult to link an isolated weather event to long-term trends, but climate change models predicted our seemingly contradictory drier world with regularly occurring extreme precipitation events.
Basic science dictates that the increased CO2 levels from mass deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels will warm the atmosphere, increasing both our water supply’s rate of evaporation and the atmosphere’s ability to hold moisture, causing today’s massive droughts and biblical deluges. For at least the 10,000 years prior to the advent of the internal combustion engine, atmospheric CO2 levels had been 280 parts per million (ppm). Today’s atmospheric CO2 levels of 400 ppm have resulted in the never seen before ferocity of California’s wildfires burning over 150,000 acres and the 31 inches of rain in Louisiana killing 13 people, forcing thousands to seek refuge, and damaging 40,000 homes. Louisiana’s flooding is the United States’ eighth extreme precipitation event over the past 15 months that exceeded the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s five hundred year flooding models. The current pace of deforestation and burning of fossil fuels is causing atmospheric CO2 levels to increase approximately 2 ppm every year, however they would have to fall below 350 ppm by the end of the century to substantially slow the planet’s warming.
The Paris Agreement is the best climate accord to date, regardless that 350 ppm would not be achieved even if all 180 Paris Agreement signatory nations met their non-binding pledges. Economists widely agree that President Obama’s Paris Agreement pledge to reduce the United States’ CO2 emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050 can only be achieved by his successor putting a price or tax on CO2 and that additional CO2 regulations under the Clean Air Act would have diminishing returns. Donald Trump denies climate change and experts say Hillary Clinton’s seemingly ambitious plan to produce a third of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources by 2027, provide $60 billion in grants for energy efficient infrastructure, and rely further on Clean Air Act regulations would not meet this goal without some form of carbon pricing. A national carbon fee and dividend program that prices carbon when it comes out of the ground and then returns those funds to taxpayers as dividends is necessary. In 2008, British Columbia’s conservative party enacted a similar revenue neutral carbon tax resulting in widespread energy efficiency measures being taken, their CO2 emissions dropping, and their economy keeping pace with the rest of the country.
Meeting the Paris Agreement will require more than two thirds of the estimated $150 trillion worth of remaining fossil fuel reserves to remain in the ground. Stanford University’s Atmosphere and Energy Program has demonstrated that this is not an issue because America has the capacity to generate 80 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2030, which alone would cause atmospheric CO2 levels to fall below 350 ppm by the end of the century. However, an energy company’s value is estimated off the reserves they posses the rights to one-day extract. This is why Exxon Mobile, the world’s most profitable publically traded energy company, gave $31 million over the past two decades for think tanks to question climate change. However, Exxon Mobile not only evaluates the long-term economics of new energy projects with a theoretical $80 a ton carbon price, it has been using cutting edge climate science for decades to increase their future profits. In 1979, Exxon Mobile used custom-made supertanker sensors to measure CO2 concentrations in the ocean and atmosphere to predict fundamentally correct climate models that the energy giant utilized when purchasing Arctic drilling leases for when it inevitable breaks up.
Climate change is here and has begun impacting our daily lives on the Seacoast. This past week, New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services changed our categorization from Extreme Drought to Severe Drought due the Bellamy Reservoir’s feeder river being at the lowest level recorded. With experts identifying the Northeast, and not the South, as one of the greatest areas of concern for flooding, I sincerely hope extreme precipitation events will not have to become a regular occurrence before America demonstrates the conviction needed to confront climate change.
Josh Denton is a Portsmouth city councilor.