The shocking extreme weather of late, from record-shattering heat waves here in the West to flood-inducing rainfall in the East and Europe, comes as no surprise to scientists who warned for decades that we are heading toward climate catastrophe.
“These extremes are something we knew were coming,” climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe recently told the Washington Post. “The suffering that is here and now is because we have not heeded the warnings sufficiently.”
Those warnings go back to 1988, when then-NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen testified before Congress that “we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause-and-effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and observed warming.”
The “greenhouse effect” Hansen referred to is the additional carbon dioxide humans have emitted by burning coal, oil and gas. As more CO2 accumulates, more heat is trapped in the atmosphere. The summer of 2021 is providing an unwelcome glimpse of the hellish future that awaits if the world fails to take decisive action to drastically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.
In the Pacific Northwest, the village of Lytton in British Columbia hit 121 degrees Fahrenheit. Portland, Oregon, reached 115 degrees. Such heat can be deadly, especially in places where a majority of homes lack air conditioning. On June 28, the temperature soared to 108 degrees in Seattle, a city where only 44% of households are air conditioned. Nearly 200 deaths in Oregon and Washington state have been attributed to the heat wave.
Here in Santa Clarita, we are in the midst of the latest “heat dome” effect (it’s 100 degrees at 5 p.m. as I write this), and we can clearly see the toll the dry heat takes on our trees and other vegetation. Beyond that, we live with the threat of water shortages as our out-of-state water sources begin to dry up.
Scientists have confirmed what is intuitively obvious: A direct link exists between the recent heat wave and climate change. A group of 26 scientists called World Weather Attribution said such extreme heat “would have been virtually impossible without climate change.” While it was a rare event, such extremes may be more common if global warming continues unabated.
While the West has roasted, in the eastern U.S. and western Europe, torrential rainfall has unleashed deadly and destructive floods. In New York City, subway riders waded through waist-deep water when rain from Tropical Storm Elsa inundated train stations and highways. After 7 inches of rain fell in and around Detroit in late June, highways flooded, stranding hundreds of vehicles. In Germany and Belgium, more than 100 people have died in freakish flooding that pushed rivers beyond their banks and through the streets of towns.
The unprecedented rainfall causing these floods is partially attributable to warmer air that holds and eventually discharges more water. Scientists are also looking at changes in the jet stream, caused by global warming, that are making weather patterns linger longer, increasing the damage.
The cumulative effect of these weather-related disasters sends a clear message: Time is up to address climate change.
Signs of hope emerged recently as the budget reconciliation process kicked off in Congress. The budget blueprint contains measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the aim of cutting those emissions in half within 10 years. To reach that target, the bill must include the essential tool most effective in reducing carbon pollution: a robust price on carbon.
Several bills have been introduced to set a strong price on carbon and also protect American families economically by giving carbon fee revenue to households. These bills would also protect businesses with a carbon border adjustment mechanism on imports from nations that do not have an equivalent price on carbon. The reconciliation proposal includes such a carbon border tax. To comply with World Trade Organization rules, the U.S. would likely need a domestic carbon price to impose a levy at the border.
To ensure that this indispensable tool to reduce carbon emissions becomes law, we urge Sen. Alex Padilla and Sen. Dianne Feinstein — who was an original sponsor of a carbon pricing bill, S.2284, in the 116th Congress — to make sure a price on carbon is included in the reconciliation bill.
Recent extreme-weather disasters underscore that we are running out of time to address climate change. Congress needs to go big on solutions, or we will all suffer the future consequences.
Cher Gilmore is a member of the Santa Clarita chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is the executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.