The United Nations Climate Action Summit kicked off with two completely different visions of the planet’s future: Action by the Trump Administration to kill California’s clean car program and the worldwide Climate Strike inspired by teenage Swedish high schooler Greta Thunberg.
In his all-too-typical and frightening behavior, the President has rejected science. His and his Administration have taken steps to eliminate the power of the state of California to set its own more stringent vehicle emission standards. Thirteen other states, including New York, follow the California standards. In total, roughly one-third of all cars sold in America are covered by these standards.
California's emissions standards are stricter than the federal EPA requirements. They're more stringent on hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions -- which become smog -- from vehicles, and require that older construction vehicles be retrofitted to be less polluting. California's gasoline also must have less sulfur, benzene and hydrocarbons than most gasoline sold elsewhere in the U.S.
The state has created a number of categories for motor vehicle emissions. Even if you don't live in California, if you have a relatively new car, you've likely seen stickers somewhere on the vehicle that reference the California standards: Cars with stickers that say they are low emissions (LEV) or partial zero emission, or a zero emissions (usually a plug-in electrics).
The Obama Administration had adopted regulations that mirror California’s; the Trump Administration killed those and is now trying to eliminate the power of the states to set stronger environmental standards.
In a state like New York, transportation is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions – the gases that are fueling global warming. Unless those emissions are reduced – as California has taken steps to do – the climate crisis will get worse.
And the climate changes that result from global warming pose an existential threat.
As usual, the Trump Administration simply doesn’t care about the science or the suffering of billions of people that will result from its deadly decisions.
However, the states are fighting back and last week New York State Attorney General Letitia James signed on to a lawsuit spearheaded by California to block the Trump Administration’s proposal to revoke the ruling that allows for tougher emissions standards.
At the same time, millions of protesters worldwide – led by school children on strike from classes – rallied to demand action on stopping the unfolding climate catastrophe.
And unfolding is the correct word. Hurricanes are stronger, sea levels are rising, glaciers are receding, surface water is evaporating, all as the planet has been heating up. Experts have said that unless the world keeps global warming to a rise of no more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2030, it may be impossible to curb runaway climate changes that could devastate the planet.
The planet is already two-thirds of the way there; the average worldwide climate temperature has risen nearly two degrees Fahrenheit, leaving little room for additional fossil fuel emissions.
That was the message of the children and their supporters; unless sweeping actions are taken right away, their futures could be hellish. Yet due to the negligence of the Trump Administration and others, renewable energy investments globally have dropped 14% this year compared with 2018 and carbon emissions are rising at their fastest rate since 2011, thanks to increased energy consumption led by China, India and the United States.
Here in New York, the Governor and the Legislature have agreed to a plan of action, but the plan has yet to be implemented.
Goals are far better than denials – or actions that make the situation worse. Our nation’s leaders need to heed the children’s clarion wake up call, and the rest of us need to fight hard to get them to act with urgency. The crisis isn’t looming, it's here now. And if we don't act, those children will face a world destroyed by our folly.
Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
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