The shocking extreme weather of late, from record-shattering heat waves 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."
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.
Extreme heat has also contributed to the increased number and severity of wildfires in the Western United States. Here on the Peninsula, we have been fortunate so far this year that little smoke from the multitude of heat-induced California and Pacific Northwest wildfires has drifted our way. But that could change at any time, resulting in a repeat of the toxic air quality and smoke-related health problems that we experienced in recent years. The West Coast's extremely dry conditions from the current drought, coupled with wildfires and water shortages throughout the region, are a wake-up call to all of us.
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 budget reconciliation bill should 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 the policy idea has bipartisan appeal. These bills would protect American businesses with a carbon border adjustment mechanism on imports from nations that do not have an equivalent price on carbon. The budget reconciliation proposal includes such a carbon border tax. However, in order 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 the indispensable tool of carbon pricing is included in upcoming legislation, we ask that Sen. Diane Feinstein and Sen. Alex Padilla actively support a price on carbon. We are encouraged that Sens. Feinstein and Padilla already understand the challenge at hand. Sen. Feinstein has stated, "It's clear the best way to limit emissions is by enacting a carbon tax." And Sen. Padilla has said, "The best way to ensure a full and rapid transition to a clean energy future is to put a cost on carbon."
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.
Paula Danz lives in Los Altos and is a volunteer with the Silicon Valley North chapter of Citizens' Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is the executive director of Citizens' Climate Lobby.