Ken Plum: Climate change is here

kenplum2“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” according to a report, Climate Change Impacts in the United States, that was released this year and that includes the findings of 300 experts affiliated with the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee.

Their findings are the same as I heard discussed last week at the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators National Issues Forum in which I participated (www.ncel.net). A couple of speakers brought unique backgrounds and insights into the issue of climate change. Retired Vice Admiral Dennis V. McGinn is a widely recognized energy and national security expert. He insists that climate change is a threat to our national security. Dr. James Hansen, formerly Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and currently an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, started in the 1980s raising awareness of global warming and speaks forcefully today of the need to take action to protect the future of young people and all species on the planet.

In legislative chambers in Virginia and throughout the country, climate change continues to be debated by politicians some of whom question whether or not climate change is actually occurring and whether humans have anything to do with causing it. Meanwhile, there is a clear conclusion among scientists as expressed in the climate change report:

“Evidence for climate change abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans. Scientists and engineers from around the world have meticulously collected this evidence, using satellites and networks of weather balloons, thermometers, buoys, and other observing systems. Evidence of climate change is also visible in the observed and measured changes in location and behavior of species and functioning of ecosystems. Taken together, this evidence tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming, and over the last half century, this warming has been driven primarily by human activity.” (Page 6)

Climate change means hotter and more erratic weather, warmer oceans and fresh water sources, heavy downpours, global sea level rise, and reductions in glaciers and sea ice, among other changes. Shrinking land ice along with an expansion of the ocean as it warms and natural land subsidence that occurs along the coast will result in areas being inundated with increased episodic flooding. The Virginia coastline will be especially hard hit.

Actions can and should be taken by legislators to protect our communities, children and future generations from the dangers of climate change. We need to reduce harmful emissions for sure, and I have put a lot of emphasis in my work on renewable energy. We need to deal with big polluters some of whom receive government subsidies recognizing that alternative energy sources are becoming increasingly available to us from rapidly growing clean industries. Above all, however, politicians need to be honest with the public in acknowledging that the climate is changing, and we can do something about it!

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