When the announcement was made that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, it was hard not to be overcome by feelings of despair. Given the compelling scientific evidence about the existence and impacts of human-caused climate change, it seemed tragic that the United States would turn its back on the world and future generations. Polls, such as the Washington Post-ABC poll, show that a majority of Americans opposed pulling out of the Accord by a 2-to-1 margin (59 percent to 28 percent).
Fortunately, there are many reasons for hope, as well as opportunities for meaningful action. At times like these, we, as individuals, as communities, and as states define America; and we have a larger and more impactful role than ever to play as stewards of the earth and guardians of inter-generational equity.
As a resident of Alaska for over 37 years, I witnessed first-hand the dramatic, adverse, and costly impacts of climate change. This is very relevant to the Santa Barbara area (where I now reside), the state, the nation, and the world because what happens in Alaska does not stay in Alaska. Alaska is the gasping canary in the proverbial coal mine.
According to the National Climate Assessment, over the last 60 years, temperatures in Alaska increased more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit. If emissions continue to increase during this century, scientists predict that temperatures will rise an additional 10 to 12 degrees F in northern Alaska. Why does this matter? Among other impacts, the Arctic ice cap, the world’s northern refrigerator, is substantially shrinking. Already there is only half as much sea ice in the Arctic Ocean in September as there was in 1979, which significantly and negatively impacts weather throughout the world, as well as critical habitat for polar bears and walruses, and Alaska Native peoples.
There are so many other scientifically documented impacts in Alaska that will worsen significantly if emissions are not reduced, impacting the Central Coast. Alaska glaciers have experienced some of the fastest loss of glacier mass on earth, increasing sea level worldwide. The permafrost near the Arctic Coast has warmed 4-5°F degrees at depths of 65 feet since the late 1970s. Under a high emissions scenario, Alaska loses most of it permafrost, which will release vast quantities of methane and carbon dioxide into the global atmosphere, warming the earth more. Alaska’s central lakes, which provide habitat to millions of migrating birds from California and elsewhere have already decreased in size, and will, in many places, disappear altogether with increased emissions. Then there are the substantial, negative impacts on Alaska Natives, their communities, their hunting and fishing, their cultural traditions, and their health, including the very costly need to relocate many imperiled Alaska Native coastal villages that are eroding into the seas.
Many cities, states, and individuals recognize that inaction is not an option, and are stepping up instead. Here are a few examples. Fortunately, on June 6, after hearing from scores of concerned, informed and passionate citizens, the Santa Barbara City Council voted to adopt a Resolution to achieve 100 percent renewable energy use by 2030. Since June 1, California, Washington, New York, Virginia and other states representing almost 40 percent of the American economy, together with mayors of approximately 200 cities (including Santa Barbara) and CEOs of large businesses such as Amazon, Apple, and Target have pledged to keep reducing emissions. On June 7, Hawaii passed a law requiring state officials to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. Technology alone, including LEDs and lower-cost solar, is driving reductions.
What else can we do? At the individual level there has never been a better time to conserve wherever possible with thoughtful energy reduction strategies, and also go renewable. At my family’s house, a solar system has just been installed, helping not only the environment, but also local jobs. Also, the other communities in Santa Barbara County can and should adopt the 100 percent Renewable Energy Resolution. At the State level, as the sixth largest economy in the world, California is taking a leadership role in reducing emissions, and we can actively support this critically important role. At the national level our Congressional representatives need to know how important this is to us so that they will take even stronger leadership roles on climate change strategies. Furthermore, we can choose to flex our consumer power by buying from companies that support emission reductions, and are acting accordingly.
Despair? Not an option. There is too much at stake and too many reasons to be optimistic. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, our natural heritage, our national security, our economy, our health, and our moral responsibilities, there has never been a better time to act to reduce emissions and stand up as individuals, communities, and states to pledge our commitment to meaningfully addressing climate change.