August is heading toward a close. The summer has once again been hot and dry. In fact, experts are predicting that this could be the hottest – or among the hottest – in modern history. As everyone who pays attention to climate science knows, with each passing year, the world will keep getting hotter.
Even if the world adheres to the Paris Accord – and the global climate agreement’s nonbinding and thus unenforceable goals – the planet will keep getting hotter for the rest of the Century. Keeping the planet from exceeding the Paris goal of holding the heating to no more than an average 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than in pre-industrial times (the late 1800s), will still mean significant damage to the planet, but not a catastrophe.
But there is no time to waste: Experts say that the world’s greenhouse gas emissions must be heading down no later than the end of this decade and be eliminated by the year 2050. The world can’t wait for the development of new technologies, it must act now.
Nationally, the transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, technology does exist to fundamentally change the way we travel – electronic-powered vehicles.
Last week, stunning displays of the devastating impacts from the heating of planet stemming from the burning of fossil fuels – oil, gas, and coal have been incredible.
Economic powerhouse China is reeling from a record-setting drought and an eleven-week-long heat wave that is forcing a drastic curbing of power supplies, threatening crops and setting off wildfires. Reduced electricity from hydroelectric dams has prompted China to impose rolling blackouts or limit energy use.
It’s not just the heat. The drought has dried up dozens of rivers and reservoirs in the region and cut hydropower generation capacity. The Yangtze River has receded so low that many oceangoing ships can no longer reach upstream ports.
China is not alone. In Europe this summer, record-breaking heat waves featuring temperatures upward of 100 degrees Fahrenheit have cooked the continent and caused thousands of deaths. France, Spain and other countries are suffering from related droughts, the drying up of rivers, and a wildfire season on pace to be the worst on record.
Here in the United States, Lake Mead, a reservoir providing water to millions and fed by the Colorado River, is now at only 27 percent capacity. The decades-long drought in the American West has also contributed to intense wildfires that have swept the region.
Even wet parts of the United States are drying out. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor listed key parts of the Northeast as being in “severe drought.” And Governor Hochul has announced that much of New York is suffering from a drought.
It will only get worse; these conditions may not be exceptional and may instead represent the new normal.
When it comes to the climate crisis, the United States must play a leadership role. It is this nation that has been the historic leader in releasing greenhouse gases and thus it is obliged to show the world how to address this growing menace.
Sadly, we haven’t been doing that. The stranglehold that the oil, gas, and coal industries have had on national public policy has resulted in far too few steps being taken to address the existential crisis posed by global warming.
The nation’s climate leadership must come from the states. Last week, the state of California targeted the largest national source of GHG when it announced that it will prohibit the sale of fossil-fuel-powered cars by the year 2035. New York has a goal of phasing out fossil fuel powered cars by 2035, but California’s new regulation is mandatory, not aspirational. California, which has one of the biggest economies in the world – can drive U.S. auto manufacturers to change the products that they sell nationally. It makes no sense to make two different types of cars, one for California and one for the rest of the states.
In fact, it is expected that fifteen other states will follow California’s lead. And those states must act. Ten states – including California and New York – are the source of half of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing emissions in those states will have a dramatic impact on the world’s climate crisis.
This is the blueprint for winning the climate war: states leading on attacking the major sources of heat-trapping emissions. If California, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey and the others (Colorado, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington) mandate that in a decade or so all new cars must be electric, then the nation will follow. And if the U.S. embraces electric cars, the world will too. We don’t have a moment to spare.
Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.