Climate change

Episodic observation suggests what a slightly more scientific study has revealed: This month has thus far been a warmer, drier June than normal, according to the National Weather Service. This is hardly proof-positive that climate change is upon us, but it is in keeping with the far more complex studies that show the phenomenon’s growing strength – and predict its potential consequences.

In Durango and Southwest Colorado, for now at least, it means a few more days or weeks of temperatures in the 80s and 90s. Gardens and farms will require more water to keep from parching and scorching. Public-land managers and visitors will have to take special care with fire. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe issued a burn ban for reservation lands Monday, and regionwide, fire alert is high. But the picture is much bigger than these immediate ramifications of what could be construed as an isolated weather pattern.

This is hardly news. The data supporting the existence of climate change and identifying its contributing causes has been piling up for years, and, for nearly as long, the question of what to do about it has been, by turns, a meaningful policy discussion and a political football – if not both simultaneously. The cost of addressing climate change is an issue, as is the wider economic impact of any policy change around how greenhouse gasses are regulated. The flipside, though, is equally important to consider. A report released Tuesday by Risky Business, a climate initiative comprising a bipartisan group of political and business leaders including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, shows that inaction on climate change will be extraordinarily costly to cities across the United States.

In coastal areas, the report predicts that by the century’s end, storms and rising sea levels will cause $42 billion increase in average annual losses – potentially up to $108 billion each year because of more severe hurricanes. In the Southwest, Southeast and Upper Midwest, increasing temperatures will affect agricultural output, with yields declining 10 to 20 percent on such commodities as corn, wheat, soy and cotton. Worker productivity will decline; human health will be affected.

The report is dire in its predictions and strong in its recommendations for swift action. As former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin said, “Climate change is the existential issue of our age – it is cumulative and irreversible, and its impacts are potentially catastrophic and pose enormous threats to our country’s economic and fiscal health.”

Risky Business sees solutions as a partnership involving business and investor adaptation as well as a public-sector response. The Environmental Protection Agency’s recently released rules ordering a state-by-state cleanup of coal-fired power plants’ greenhouse-gas emissions is a critical policy change in the right direction. It is not enough to reverse the trend, but President Barack Obama’s advocacy for the rules, with consistent – if somewhat less than wholly enthusiastic – support from recent Supreme Court rulings, suggests momentum is building to meaningfully address the global issue.

There is a long way to go, but with reasonable people from all political parties recognizing the urgency and severity of the situation, there is potential for progress.

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