Some may call it a political move designed to undermine the fossil fuel industry. Others, though, are saying that a comprehensive report issued by multiple government agencies is warning shot — to tell Congress and industry that carbon mitigation efforts are absolutely necessary.
On Monday, the Obama released its Scientific Assessment on the Impact of Climate Change to Human Health in the United States, which has been developed over three years by 100 climate experts. Sounding rather dire, the report says that future ozone-related health issues as a result of climate change are projected to lead to “hundreds to thousands of premature deaths” or hospitalizations each year in this country by 2030. Climate mitigation defenses are therefore a must.
“Warmer winter and spring temperatures are projected to lead to earlier annual onset of Lyme disease cases in the eastern United States and a general northward expansion of ticks capable of carrying the bacteria …,” says the report.
At the same time, it warns of rising temperatures and increasing flooding, runoff events and drought that will affect the agricultural industry, leading to the risk for food contamination and human exposure to pathogens and toxins. Those most impacted? The low income and communities of color, as well as as the elderly, children and pregnant woman — or those least able to afford protections.
Higher temperatures, meanwhile, can also lead to a wide range of illnesses that include those tied to cardiovascular and respiratory ailments, not to mention diabetes, hyperthermia and mental health issues. “Poverty also is a key risk factor, and the poor are disproportionately affected by extreme events,” the report says.
The paper goes on to say that the Obama administration has recognized this threat and has tried to enact regulatory policies to defeat it: namely the Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030 by switching out older coal-fired plants for new ones that run on clean fuels and by allowing companies to trade carbon credits amongst themselves.
It also is a party to the COP21 agreement signed in Paris in December, which aims to limit the rise in global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius by mid Century. To that end, the United States plans to have a signing ceremony on April 22 — Earth Day — with several other countries to draw attention to the potential threats and to discuss ways to achieve success.
No doubt, the issuance of the report along with the signing will be criticized as expensive and injurious to jobs. Unless this becomes a global effort, those skeptics maintain that the United States would be unilaterally disarming.
Obama has thus responded by saying that the world’s second biggest carbon emitter has a duty to lead, pointing out that this country has cut its carbon releases by 10-15 percent since 2007 by switching from coal-to-natural gas. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy has been the beacon of economic success at a time when other nations are struggling, he adds.
Just what companies are in support of the president’s actions? One might be surprised to learn that ConocoPhillips, Gazprom, OAO, Statoil ASA, Royal Dutch Shell and Total have signed a formal pledge to support the global carbon pact. Those oil companies are already investing alternative resources.
“In this atmosphere of presidential politics, the more incendiary comments are getting the attention,” says former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, during a talk with this reporter. “They are the ones directing the conversation. The climate is changing all around us: just look at the California drought. Humans are exacerbating this natural trend.”
The former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator under President Bush II adds that the term “climate change” has become highly politicized. So, she says that the discussion should center on “human health,” noting that all parents are concerned about the well-being of their children and that at least in the Northeast, residents have been told to stay indoors because of poor air quality.
“What we want is clean, green and affordable power that is also reliable,” says Governor Whitman, also co-chair of the CASEnergy Coalition. “Let the market place work within those parameters and let government put the money into research and development.”
From there, clean technologies will be developed and likely distributed around the world for the benefit of all governments and their private or publicly-owned enterprises. Despite some resistance, the administration’s scientific assessment hopes to accelerate those efforts to limit heat-trapping emissions, and avoid the scenarios for which it has outlined.
Ken Silverstein is editor-in-chief of Business Sector Media, publisher of Environmental Leader and Energy Manager Today.
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