Congress should heed forecast on global warming

As a mother of three children who engage in numerous outdoor activities, I often find myself checking the weather forecast to see if it might rain. In all the time that I’ve done that, I’ve never looked at a forecast that said 97 percent chance of rain and thought to myself “Oh, there’s a 3 percent chance of no rain, so no need to pack an umbrella.”

I raise this because I’m perplexed by Republicans who continue to deny that climate change is real or even something we need to proactively address. Simply put, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that global warming trends seen over the past 100 years are the result of human activity.

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Additionally, 18 leading scientific organizations have stated: “Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver.”

Climate change is real and we’re causing it, and without action, the potential effects are devastating. It’s time to stop questioning the forecast and pull out our legislative umbrella.

As a member of Congress from South Florida, I share my constituents’ sense of urgency to act. Most of South Florida sits 9 feet or less above sea level, with cities like Miami Beach sitting just 3 feet above sea level, so even small increases in sea level make it much more likely that our communities will flood during storms, or have increased sea water intrusion into our drinking water aquifer. 

Already we’ve seen 9 inches of sea level rise in South Florida since the 1920s, and a 2009 Army Corps of Engineers’ report predicted sea level rise in Southeast Florida of 3 to 7 inches by 2030 and 2 feet by 2060. If that happens, many South Florida communities will simply be gone.

The ocean itself will also be a victim. Carbon dioxide absorbed into seawaters changes PH levels. It leads to serious ocean acidification. This chemical process will profoundly impact the ability of some sea life, including corals, to survive at all. Needless to say, vibrant ocean ecosystems are critical not only to Floridians, but all of us. 

Likewise, the case for Congressional action isn’t isolated to Florida. Of the 25 most densely populated counties in the U.S., 23 of them are coastal. Major cities like New York, Charleston and San Diego are vulnerable to sea level rise. The infrastructure and economies of many of these communities are dependent upon things like commercial and recreational fishing, maritime transportation and tourism, all of which could be adversely affected by climate change.

Last year was the warmest year on record for the continental U.S., and globally, 12 of the hottest years on record have been in the last 15 years. This is no coincidence.

This increase in temperature isn’t just uncomfortable for the one-third of the U.S. population that experienced 10 or more 100-degree days. It also cost the American economy $100 billion in damage from wildfires, droughts and severe weather.

Even without congressional support, President Obama has made significant progress in moving America toward reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. He established the highest passenger car fuel economy standards, doubling fuel efficiency by 2025. Since 2008, U.S. renewable energy generation by wind and solar doubled. And in 2012, carbon pollution from U.S. power plants fell to its lowest level in nearly 20 years.

But with power plants contributing roughly 40 percent of greenhouse gases in the U.S., we must do more to reduce carbon emissions from these plants. Obama has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to work with states, industry and other stakeholders to establish carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants. Congress should support this effort. Coal state representatives and senators can’t have it both ways, saying on the one hand that we have clean coal technology, but at the same time saying that reducing coal emissions would “put coal out of business.”

America has faced environmental challenges in the past by working together, across party lines, to enact important pieces of legislation like the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. As a result, we’ve seen significant improvement in our environment in a relatively short period of time.

The evidence is clear: We must dramatically curb carbon release if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and I urge my colleagues in Congress to join in this effort. It’s time for the deniers to stop clinging to their 3 percent chance and for both sides of the aisle to address the significant social, economic and environmental challenges that global warming and climate change pose to the future of our nation.

Wasserman Schultz has represented Florida’s 23rd Congressional District since 2005. She serves on the Appropriations Committee.