The evidence of climate change is overwhelming

Climate change is a fact of life. The evidence is all around us, from increasing temperatures across the nation, to record flooding in Colorado, to the devastating Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park, to Superstorm Sandy. No region of the country has been spared the loss of life, property damage, emotional turmoil or financial cost associated with climate change.

The science is clear: Climate experts now say, with virtual certainty, that the planet is warming mainly due to human activities that have increased the amount of carbon pollution in our air. A landmark report on the latest climate science released last week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that the world’s leading scientists agree with 95 percent certainty that climate disruption is real, and human activities are the primary cause. 

That level of certainty is about the same as the consensus among top scientists that cigarettes are deadly and only slightly less than scientists’ agreement that gravity exists. According to a recent Associated Press article, “in science, 95 percent certainty is often considered the gold standard for certainty.”

Other scientific studies show that our planet is warming at an alarming rate.

A study in the peer-reviewed journal Science found that the rate of warming that our planet has experienced over the last 150 years is greater than at any other period during the last 11,000 years.

Extreme summer heat in the U.S. continues to increase, the most recent decade was also the nation’s hottest on record, and 2012 was our hottest single year. 

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the carbon pollution in our atmosphere reached the unprecedented level of more than 400 parts per million, levels not seen since between 2.5 and 5 million years ago.

The prolonged periods of record-high temperatures and droughts associated with climate disruption have been devastating to my home state of California, most recently in the form of larger and more frequent wildfires. 

In August, I met with federal, state, and local fire chiefs and emergency management officials, and saw for myself the destruction that wildfires, like the massive Rim Fire, have caused in California. The Rim Fire, which devastated Yosemite, is the third largest wildfire in state history, has cost more than $100 million to fight and caused air pollution indexes to reach record levels in California and Nevada.

Wildfire smoke contains dangerous toxins that harm air quality, which increases respiratory and cardiovascular problems. Aside from compromised air quality that is caused by wildfires and warming temperatures, as the most recent draft of the National Climate Assessment concludes, public health and safety are being increasingly threatened by climate disruption in many ways: more frequent extreme weather events, diseases transmitted by insects, food and water supply disruption, asthma and severe allergic reactions to increased pollen, rising sea levels, disappearing Arctic ice, and the list goes on.

The economic consequences of climate change are astronomical. According to NOAA, the 25 most damaging climate disasters, including severe storms, floods, heat waves, droughts and wildfires, in the U.S. in 2011 and 2012 resulted in more than 1,100 fatalities and caused approximately $188 billion in damages.

And this has real-world consequences for all of us because the American taxpayers are on the hook to pay the many indirect costs related to climate impacts recovery, including disaster relief, national flood insurance and drought-related crop losses. 

Refusing to address climate change is fiscally irresponsible. That is why the U.S. military, the insurance industry and major corporations are all developing strategies and taking steps to meet the challenges related to climate change.

The U.S. is a world leader in the environmental technology industry, which employs nearly 1.7 million Americans and generates more than $300 billion in revenue each year. We can and should lead the way in renewable energy and in creating innovative ways to reduce carbon pollution. 

Recently, the Obama administration announced proposed standards to reduce carbon pollution from new power plants. This is a critical and appropriate step forward in addressing the biggest source of carbon pollution and protecting public health. 

Those who choose to continue to claim that climate change does not exist are standing on the wrong side of science and history. The real debate should be on what steps can be taken to cut carbon pollution, and protect people’s health and the nation’s economy from the dangerous impacts associated with climate change. Our children and future generations are counting on us to act responsibly.

Boxer is the junior senator from California, serving since 1993. She is chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and sits on the Foreign Relations Committee; the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; and the Select Committee on Ethics.