A Great Week for Momentum on Climate

We all know that climate change is the single largest threat facing wildlife.  And it’s getting worse: the 12 hottest years on record have all occurred in the last 15, extreme weather events are on the rise, and the disastrous  impact climate change is having on wildlife is ever more apparent.  Just last week, Minnesota called off  their moose hunting season because the moose population of northeast Minnesota has shrunken so drastically: by 35%.  Much of this decline is due to increasing temperatures: as highlighted in NWF’s recent report Wildlife in a Warming World, warmer temperatures cause moose to seek shelter rather than forage for nutritious foods.

The moose population in northeast Minnesota is being devastated by climate change. (Dick Forehand)
They also become more vulnerable to tick infestations: individual moose infested with 50,000 to 70,000 ticks—ten to twenty times more than normal—have been documented.

But this week, the chances for action on reducing the severity of climate change by reducing carbon pollution are starting to look up.  The President and Congress are giving ever more attention to the need for bold climate action, and we’re seeing growing momentum across the country.

Bold Words From President Obama

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama built upon the promise he made in his inaugural address—to “respond to the threat of climate change, knowing the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations”—by laying out his commitment to reducing carbon pollution and fighting climate change with a set of concrete proposals.

“The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Congress is paying attention

President Obama’s inaugural address and State of the Union speech emphasized the need to take strong climate action, and it looks like Congress is paying attention. On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a briefing on the latest climate science for members of Congress.  Four distinguished scientists testified that the impacts we’re seeing from climate change are just beginning: the next few years will see increasing sea level rise and extreme weather events, and failure to take serious action to cut carbon emissions will only increase the damage to wildlife, fragile ecosystems, and public health.

Senators Bernie Sanders and Senator Barbara Boxer introduced comprehensive legislation on climate change, an important first step in taking action on climate in Congress.  The legislation would tax carbon emissions at $20 a ton, with the goal of cutting U.S. carbon emissions 20% from 2005 levels for 2025.  More than half of the revenue—as much as $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years—would be returned to taxpayers as a monthly rebate.  Much of the remaining revenue would be used to fund energy efficiency and clean energy programs.  NWF sees putting a price on carbon as a key tool in fighting carbon pollution, and will continue to work with members on both sides of the aisle to advance climate solutions.

Ignoring climate change is risky

Yesterday, we got another sign that the government is starting to realize the dangers of continued inaction on climate change. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the independent, nonpartisan “congressional watchdog” that submits reports to Congress on how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars, announced today that it is adding the financial risks posed by climate change to its “high-risk list.” The high-risk list, released at the start of each new Congress, includes 30 federal programs that are at high risk of waste, fraud, abuse and financial loss—essentially, the GAO identifies areas where the federal government is mismanaged or inefficient.  The addition of climate change to this list is huge news: the watchdog is telling the government that the failure to address climate change is putting us at huge financial risk.  Ignoring climate change is, simply, bad business.

In the announcement, the GAO confirmed what we’ve always known: carbon pollution puts people, property, and the environment at risk, and we must both fight future pollution and adapt to become more resilient to the changes that are already occurring.  Climate change adaptation just makes sense, and ignoring climate change and its risks puts the federal government—and the country—in an incredibly vulnerable position.

Take ActionSpeak up for the polar bears, moose and wildlife across the country threatened by climate change–send a message to President Obama urging him to move forward on limits to carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants.