Climate change is not something that will impact in the future – it’s happening now. An unrelenting heat wave in California and on the west coast has helped fuel forest fires, there has been massive flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal that have devastated that region, hurricanes Irma and Maria have decimated the Caribbean, hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding in Texas.
Yet, these aren’t the first catastrophes; 5 years ago this week Superstorm Sandy hammered New York and New Jersey.
Sandy spawned incredible storm surge flooding, claimed 159 lives in the mid-Atlantic and northeastern regions of the country and left behind more than $70 billion in damage, making it one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.
Sandy hammered New York and New Jersey, leaving much of New York City powerless and in some areas under feet of water.
Like the catastrophes left in Sandy’s wake, the islands of the Caribbean, Texas, and the other nations have suffered unprecedented damage from this year’s hurricanes.
What do these storms have to do with climate change?
Here is what we know: Global warming heats the atmosphere which leads to heat waves; higher temperatures lead to increased rates of evaporation, leading to rapid drying of soils, which not only contributes to droughts, it can also lead to forest fires. Global warming also leads to higher sea levels, which in turn increases the risk of storm surge, contributing to the damage brought by hurricanes.
But you wouldn’t know it from what we hear from Washington. There climate deniers continue to argue that the science isn’t settled, that programs to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases are useless, and, in fact, that the federal government should bail out the coal industry – a leading contributor to the world’s warming crisis.
Yeah, you read that correctly, Energy Secretary Rick Perry has advanced a plan to bail out the coal industry. Under the proposal, the federal government would require anyone who receives an electric bill to pay owners of coal and nuclear power plants their operating costs, plus a guaranteed profit – regardless of whether their plants are selling electricity at a competitive price.
Bailing out those responsible for global warming is exactly the wrong approach. Instead, policymakers should be making the fossil fuel industry pay to help us all deal with the responses. That’s what happening right now in California. Five cities have filed lawsuits against five of the biggest oil companies to offset the costs from local flooding in low-lying areas, eroding shores, and salt water impacts on water treatment systems, just a few of the impacts linked to sea level rise.
Of course, more needs to be done –stopping the industry from creating new infrastructure is another important step. After all, new pipelines and other facilities need to be used for decades in order to pay off the cost of building them in the first place.
When it comes to climate change, there is no time left.
As downstate residents found out when facing Superstorm Sandy, the time for rhetoric is over. The time for action is now.
Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors.They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.