The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its first full report Monday since 2007 analyzing changes in global warming and man’s contribution to it.
It’s the sort of document that should be helping convince policy-makers around the world to reduce carbon emissions and to prepare for the consequences of a hotter planet: More and more severe floods, wildfires, drought and other climate disasters.
According to summaries released by the IPCC last week, the document uses the strongest language yet tying man’s actions — such as the proliferation of coal-fired power plants — to the long-term changes in atmosphere.
The scientists determined that it is “extremely likely” that man is making global warming worse.
Science-deniers in the Republican Party, along with a few Democrats in coal-producing states or in states whose economies are dependent on coal-fired electricity, will likely point to a small section of the report which finds scientists lack consensus on a warming slowdown during the past 15 years.
Those skeptics should not distract attention from the rest of the report, produced by more than 600 contributing authors from 32 countries and another 50 review editors, including most of the top climate change scientists in the world.
There was a time when Republicans and Democrats both knew that improving the nation’s environment was actually a key to creating the jobs and cities of the future.
Here’s a portion of a speech given by a Republican president decades ago that we simply can’t imagine hearing today:
“How did this come about? It came about by the president proposing. It came about by a bipartisan effort represented by the senators and congressmen, who are here today. ... And I thank the Congress, and the country owes a debt to the Congress in its closing days, for acting in this particular field.”
Those were the words of President Richard Nixon on the last day of 1970 as he signed the Clean Air Act and created the Environmental Protection Agency that many members of his party more than four decades later now want to get rid of.
That agency, the enforcement mechanism that Mr. Nixon in his remarks that day called key to the success of the Clean Air Act, recently released a rule that has been contemplated since Congress amended the act in 1990. It seeks to regulate the emission of carbon for new coal-fired power plants.
Those rules make it unlikely that any new coal plants will be built in coming years.
But that’s not really what has the coal companies upset.
They weren’t planning on building any such plants anyway. The energy market has changed with natural gas being cheaper and cleaner and likely to stay that way for years to come. Meanwhile, solar and wind energy are gaining a foothold. And if Congress and the president ever move forward with a plan to store nuclear waste in the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada, as a federal judge has ordered them to do, there is still a chance that nuclear reactors will fill a role in the nation’s energy future. There’s exciting potential in new technology that would use today’s nuclear waste to fire a new generation of power plants.
What coal executives fear aren’t the new EPA rules, but the ones to come, the ones that will respond to Monday's IPPA report and deal with the problem that IPPA chairman Thomas Stocker has called “the greatest challenge of our time.”
There was a time in U.S. history, not long ago, but longer than the recent 15-year slowdown in warming trends, when Republicans and Democrats could respond to such challenges together. When they could realize, as President Nixon said on that important day in 1970, “that all of us, Democrats, Republicans, the House, the Senate, the executive branch, that all of us can look back upon this year as that time when we began to make a movement toward a goal that we all want.”
What we all want is a planet, a country, a city that we can pass on to the next generation. We want our children and grandchildren to have the same or better opportunities than we have had. Climate change is making that less likely.
To deny climate change is to deny them that chance.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.