Caldeira et al. Op-Ed

This ran today in various US daily papers including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

March 1, 2012

On Tuesday a federal court in Washington D.C. heard oral arguments on a historic case — a legal challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s science-based determination that heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution is a threat to our health and well-being. The scientific foundation for this determination is both extensive and authoritative.

Litigants are now asking the court to overturn that determination. To do so would mean overturning our fundamental commitment to clean air protections based on rigorous science.

Climate science, as any science, has uncertainty. But the uncertainty is about exactly how, and how fast, the climate system will respond to rising temperatures. We are certain about this: the more greenhouse gases we put into the air, the more severe the impacts will be, and the greater the risk we run of triggering disruptive, even disastrous changes in climate.

Multiple independent analyses of long-term temperature records show average global temperatures rising as greenhouse gas concentrations have risen. The present round of rising temperatures do not track natural cycles of the Earth, volcanic activity, or changes in energy from the Sun. As the levels of heat-trapping gases rise, we are all witnessing the results: Earth’s average temperature increasing, record breaking heat waves, melting ice sheets, accelerating sea level rise, oceans turning more acidic, and storms becoming more intense.

Some numbers for consideration:

100 to 1000 years: the length of time after their emission to the atmosphere that many greenhouse gases trap heat that would otherwise escape into space.

40%: the increase in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide–the primary heat-trapping gas–since the Industrial Revolution.

At least 800,000 years: the period leading up to today during which atmospheric carbon dioxide was below current levels. At ~390 parts per million, current levels are now 30% higher than at any time in this period, and rising.

Zero: the number of periods of Earth’s history during which climate records show carbon dioxide rose as rapidly and as much as projected under current “businesses as usual” scenarios.

Hundreds: the number of scientists involved in writing the assessments of climate science by the National Research Council of the National Academies, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the U.S. Global Change Research Program. These assessments provide rigorous scientific support for the endangerment determination.

Thousands: the number of peer-reviewed research articles cited in the assessments.

Even a small shift in average temperatures can carry enormous implications for our health and welfare. The U.S. Global Change Research Program found that if emission rates continue unchanged the U.S. is likely to experience stronger coastal storm surges and more frequent extreme rainfall events. We will see an increase in the frequency and severity of flooding, an increase in the frequency and severity of droughts, more wildfires in some regions, and reductions in crop yields and livestock productivity. In cities rising temperatures are projected to accelerate smog formation and lead to increased incidence of respiratory distress and premature death.

In addition to the harm caused to individuals and communities, these impacts carry significant economic consequences. Just this past spring and summer, we witnessed many of these sorts of climate-related disasters in the U.S., including floods in the central U.S. and North Dakota ($5 billion), and a $9 billion dollar drought in the southwest (which followed more than a decade of drought in this region). Such disasters are projected to become more common and more destructive over time if our emissions continue unchecked.

Reducing heat-trapping gas emissions will reduce the severity of these impacts. It will also lower the risk of pushing our planet past a “threshold” that could lead to dramatic, abrupt climate changes with potentially catastrophic impacts for human societies and natural systems.

If we act wisely, together, we can reduce heat-trapping gas emissions by using energy more efficiently and thus lower our energy bills. We can make energy more cleanly, clearing our air and improving national security. We can make smart choices that decrease our dependence on foreign energy and support a stronger domestic economy.

Many Americans support these ideas. The Department of Defense is concerned about climate change creating political instability. Business leaders recognize that we are in danger of falling behind other nations in developing the clean energy economy of the future. And people of faith are speaking out on the need to care for God’s creation. All have reason to work together to solve this problem and preserve this planet for future generations.

The scientific support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusion that heat-trapping gases pose a threat to human health and welfare is clear and incontrovertible. Every year, the  evidence grows stronger. The Environmental Protection Agency is justified in taking action under the Clean Air Act, as it has so often before, to protect Americans from the harms posed by air pollution. It is time to unlock the innovative power of this nation to solve this problem.

  • Dr. Ken Caldeira, Senior Scientist, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for
    Science; Professor by Courtesy, Department of Environmental Earth System Sciences,
    Stanford University
  • Dr. Julia Cole, Professor of Geosciences, University of Arizona
  • Dr. Andrew Dessler, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M
  • Dr. Jacqueline Mohan, Assist. Prof. of Ecosystem Ecology & Biogeochemistry, University of
    Georgia, Odum School of Ecology
  • Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Princeton
  • Dr. Ted Scambos, Lead Scientist, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado

Published in:

Anchorage Daily News (AK)
Beaufort Gazette (SC)
Belleville News-Democrat (IL)
Bellingham Herald (WA)
(Biloxi) Sun Herald (MS)
Bradenton Herald (FL)
Centre Daily Times (PA)
Charlotte Observer (NC)
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (GA)
El Nuevo Herald (FL – Spanish)
Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX)
Fresno Bee (CA)
The (Rock Hill) Herald (SC)
Idaho Statesman (ID)
The Island Packet (SC)
Kansas City Star (MO)
Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
Merced Sun-Star (CA)
Miami Herald (FL)
Modesto Bee (CA)
(Raleigh) News & Observer (NC)
News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
The Olympian (WA)
Sacramento Bee (CA)
The State (SC)
The Sun News (SC)
The Telegraph (GA)
The Tribune (CA)
Tri-City Herald (WA)
Wichita Eagle (KS)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.