In an increasingly polarized world, political moderates, Republicans and Democrats, will benefit from reviewing some facts concerning the debate on climate warming.
First, the world economy is producing more carbon dioxide through the burning of fossil fuels than nature is absorbing. This causes an accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
As the world heats up, this causes ice sheets and icebergs to melt. When the ice melts, either ground surface or seawater replaces this area. Both are darker than ice, and less light is reflected in space, and thus, the earth absorbs more light and heat.
The higher temperatures increase the evaporation of water, producing additional water vapor in the atmosphere that traps even more heat.
The above three phenomena compound the warming because each one accelerates the others: the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the more melting of ice, the more water vapor, all causing more warming and then additional melting of ice, more water vapor and so on. It is like compound interest in the bank, but the compounding is working against us. This is the reason for the sense of urgency. The more we delay, the greater the damage, and the more we have to pay to get back to normal.
It is hard to ignore the evidence of the warming, as we see it both in higher temperatures and in extreme weather events occurring much more frequently than the past. Of the warmest 18 years since 1880, seventeen have occurred since 2001. Arctic land temperatures are already up two degrees Celsius above the 1981-2010 average. Climate warming may be accelerating more than anticipated. We are already paying the costs of increasing floods, storms, hurricanes, and higher seawater, in addition to forest fires, heatwaves, and scarcity of freshwater.
It is in our interest to try to minimize these costs, to the benefit of the nation. Warming is warming, not Republican or Democratic. We are fighting natural constraints, hopefully not each other.
The phenomenon is worldwide, and thus it will require global solutions. No relevant country can be absent without jeopardizing global results.
At the same time, this situation is opening up enormous new markets in energy efficiency, solar energy production, energy distribution, and storage systems. The required global investments in energy savings and renewable energy production are estimated at $25 trillion ($2017) for the period 2025-2040 according to the sustainable development scenario of the World Energy Outlook. New consumers are emerging: interested in products and services with low environmental impact, emphasizing local food production, sharing of cars and homes, and recycling. They are becoming more aware of their carbon footprint and those of their products as a measure of quality.
Unfortunately, the fossil fuel sector remains a significant obstacle to this new development. The industry enjoys unwarranted subsidies totaling 6.4 percent of world GDP in 2017, and local air pollution from fossil fuels causes the death of seven million persons annually, as reported by the International Monetary Fund. Recently in the US, the industry has promoted the rollback of cleaner, more efficient energy standards for automobiles (thus favoring more sales of gasoline, diesel fuel, and more deadly pollution) and has supported many other weaker environmental standards.
We recognize the need for fossil fuels for decades to come, but to go against the environmental, health, and climate improvements that the US and the world require, is irresponsible. An outdated and hazardous development path is constraining the US economy.
Nobody knows how bad it will get in terms of temperatures, storms, hurricanes, flooding, forest fires, heatwaves, water shortages, and desertification, primarily because we do not know how swiftly the US and the world will respond to the challenge. However, we do not have a Planet B. In recent polls, 78 percent of younger (18-38) Republicans said climate change was a serious threat, the same percentage as younger Democrats. My guess is that political moderates when they become well informed, will choose the less risky path of acting now and respecting nature, rather than delaying and courting disaster.