Combatting climate change because humanity depends on it
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In the Atlantic, Hurricane Dorian has been menacing the coastlines of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. The storm was categorized as a “monster” and potentially “epic.” I am no stranger to these types of storms. In Houston, in 2017, we experienced Hurricane Harvey, which killed 68. It dumped 52 inches of rain—trillions of gallons of water—on our city and affected areas. At its peak, a third of the city was under water; 12,700 homes were destroyed; and, 203,000 homes were damaged, displacing 34,575 evacuees to shelters.

Climate Scientists and experts in the field from around the world have been warning that, as a result of climate change, our hurricanes are likely to grow more ferocious and more frequent. And the trend is not moving in an encouraging direction. July 2019 was recorded as the hottest month in history. And this has deadly consequences: a warming planet means higher sea levels, imperiling large swaths of humanity; it means a more fragile ecosystem and the demise of countless species. In the great American west, a warming planet means greater and more intense wildfires. And a warmer planet, coupled with unrelenting rates of carbon dioxide, means our planet’s climate crisis will grow, causing irreparable injuries with unforgiving urgency. Put another way, we should not be surprised by the ferocity of Dorian, and we should expect as much from future such storms.

Our experts here at home echo these concerns. Last Thanksgiving, the federal government released the 2018 National Climate Assessment (“NCA”). Its conclusions are damning. The report, mandated by an act of Congress, makes clear the myriad ways in which climate change can—and likely will—wreak havoc on our environment and our economy. To be certain, the report serves as a harbinger of more ill certain to follow: the United States faces a perilous outlook as a result of the effects of climate change. The report is notable in two respects: first, it is put forth by agencies of the Trump administration. It is not fake news; it is not to be ignored. The report is promulgated by several agencies of the Trump administration, including the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the departments of State, Defense, Commerce, to name but a few. This reality is all the more confounding in the face of the president’s mistaken (and repeated) assertions that climate change is not man-made, or worse that it is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. And, second, the report prognosticates long-term, sustained damage to the American economy, and forecasts a 10 percent decline in the country’s gross domestic product, doubling the loss to our economy suffered during the years that comprised the Great Recession.

As troubling as any part of the NCA is its conclusion: “That the evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming and continues to strengthen, that the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country, and that climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social, and economic well-being are rising.”  The time is now for the United States to finally join the international community by taking a collective stand to protect our planet from the probable and likely consequences of climate change before it becomes too late, and our planet—our one and only home—is no longer habitable as we know it.

We must act. While we cannot control Mother Nature, we can control ourselves.   Despite the science, and the outlook, many Republicans deny the existence of climate change—some believe it’s a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese—and the party has failed to tackle the problem in any way or form. The Trump administration has failed to put forth a meaningful plan on climate change. Not only does it lack a meaningful plan, they are moving in ways that sabotage progress towards confronting this crisis. Just last week, it reversed a regulation which now makes it easier to release methane gas, which “significantly contributes to climate change.” Out West, where a warming planet means greater wildfires—the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions posits that one-degree Celsius will increase the amount of land burned by as much as 600 percent, the Trump administration is fighting California on emissions regulations in automobiles. And, of course, the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accords stands as a monument to its failure to appreciate the gravity of this threat.

For those not motivated by the scientific imperative to act, climate change affects the bottom line, too. As indicated in the NCA, a changing climate could negatively affect the country’s gross domestic product by as much as 10 percent. But, while Americans should rightly be concerned that the economy could be adversely affected by as much as 10 percent, our economy can be invigorated by the benefits of a green initiative. This includes countless green jobs in the industries of renewable energy, sustainable development, and other such related fields. According to the Center for American Progress, green jobs are likely to pay more, green jobs are better for small businesses and “green jobs are made in America,” which means investments in American states, cities and towns.

But there is plenty more which can be done, here at home. One such measure which can rapidly produce results is H.R. 9, the Climate Action Now Act. H.R. 9 would prohibit any federal funds from being used to take any action to advance the withdrawal of the U.S. from the landmark Paris agreement. It also calls on the president to develop and make public a plan for how the United States will meet our commitment to reduce pollution. Members of the House Democratic Caucus have also introduced initiatives which would call for an end to greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. This deadline is consistent with one set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warns the world to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. H.R. 9 passed the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, it sits alongside 200 other bills House Democrats have passed as part of the “For the People” agenda and which await action by the Senate. I will not rest until H.R. 9 becomes law and, nonetheless, I urge all to take meaningful action to address climate change. If we do nothing, and let inaction govern our behavior, our common humanity will suffer.

Jackson Lee represents the 18th District of Texas and is a senior member of the Judiciary Committee and Homeland Security Committee.