The increased severity of storms, record heat, and extreme drought has caught the attention of America. A recent survey found that four out of five people acknowledge the changing climate and want to respond to rising sea levels. And the climate change is apparent here in Utah. The year 2012 was the hottest year on record. And overall we get 9 percent less precipitation as snow, and vast areas of western forest have died from beetle infestation, due primarily to less extreme cold in the winter.
It is becoming apparent that climate scientists generally agree that humans are the primary drivers of climate change. For instance, former college president and National Science Board member James Lawrence Powell recently completed a study of peer-reviewed publications on global warming. He reviewed articles published from Jan. 1991 to Nov. 2012 and found that of 33,700 authors, fully 33,666 agreed upon the fact of human-caused global warming. That is a ratio of 1000 to 1! This shift in public opinion has occurred despite special interest groups spending over $100 million in the past decade to lobby Congress and spread misinformation among citizens and legislators.
With a changing climate, more destructive weather events, and a current course leading in the wrong direction, it is more important than ever that we pause on Earth Day and seriously consider our future. Yes, climate change has become the wake-up call for humanity to fundamentally change the way that it obtains and uses energy.
For some, that challenge is frightening. Some can't conceive of a thriving economy without fossil fuels. Others fear a change in their business or loss of jobs. One can understand these worries. But for those willing to consider a better future there are great opportunities, indeed. Imagine the possibilities: a winter with clean air; steady, safe jobs in a clean fuel industry; healthy, vibrant communities not dependent upon toxic fuel.
Many visionary professionals are telling us this is not only necessary, but possible. Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson and co-authors have written a paper that demonstrates how New York state can be entirely powered on wind, water and sunlight. Consider the potential here in Utah where we are fortunate to have an abundance of geothermal, sun, and wind sources of energy.
But how do we get from our fossil-fuel economy to the clean energy economy? Besides vision, we need political will, especially in Congress. Things are starting to change. President Obama has called for action to address climate change. Senators Boxer, D-Calif., and Sanders, D-Vt., have introduced the Save our Climate Act which would put a tax on carbon and return 60 percent of the proceeds to American households.
On Earth Day we can celebrate the fact that many others besides environmentalsts are calling for action on climate change. Now the list includes such diverse organizations as businesses, the military, and faith-based groups Nearly three dozen major U.S. corporations have signed a "Climate Declaration," urging federal action to address climate change. The group includes Nike, Intel, Starbucks, and other well-recognized companies. Not surprisingly, the U.S. military is addressing the issue. Just last month the naval officer in charge of the Asia Pacific region, Admiral Samuel Locklear, said that global warming "is probably the most likely thing... to cripple the security environment."
And faith groups are seeing a moral call to action. Interfaith Power and Light now includes over 14,000 congregations that are taking action like reducing their carbon emissions. And the LDS Church has put a spotlight on energy efficient buildings, like the LEED silver certified meetinghouse in Farmington and Church History building in Salt Lake City.
The changing climate is not a partisan issue. The wildfires in Utah last summer did not select out Democrats or Republicans or Independents. The solution must come from both sides of the isle. Republicans such as George Shultz, economist Greg Mankiw, and former Congressman Bob Inglis have all spoken on the need for a carbon tax. A recent survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications revealed that among Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents, 52 percent believe climate change is happening and 77 percent think the U.S. should use more renewable energy. We need more of our Utah congressional and state representatives to take a part in crafting a conservative solution.
A clean energy economy will not only produce a cleaner environment, it will give us energy independence, better jobs, improve national security, and reverse the destructive tide of climate change. On this Earth Day, isn't this the time for each of us to take a stand and for our Utah elected officials to speak up for a clean energy future?
David Folland M.D., is a retired pediatrician in Sandy, and volunteers for Citizens Climate Lobby.